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Patience Pays Off for Frozen Four Forward

By Shane Frederick, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 04/04/22, 5:00PM CDT


For the past two college hockey seasons, Cade Borchardt has played on one of the top lines in the country. Going into this year’s NCAA tournament, the Minnesota State junior forward had 40 points, which ranked third on his team and among the top 20 scorers in the nation.

That came on the heels of a 24-points-in-28-games sophomore season during which he first joined forces with linemates Nathan Smith and Julian Napravnik.

Smith, a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2022, came to Mankato with Borchardt and quickly became a regular player, along with fellow rookies Lucas Sowder and Ryan Sandelin. Unlike the trio of Smith, Sowder (the WCHA’s rookie of the year in 2020) and Sandelin, Borchardt had a tough time cracking a talented Mavericks lineup that also included All-American center Marc Michaelis and four other senior forwards.

Borchardt played in just 10 games as a freshman. He had no points and only four shots on goal, hardly a role player on a team that might have competed for a national championship if the global pandemic hadn’t shut down the season.

“It was a long year for me,” Borchardt said. “You want to be in the lineup every night. Unfortunately some guys aren’t, and I wasn’t a lot of the time my freshman year.”

Battling Through It

Borchardt had confidence in his game. As a prep player at Burnsville High School, he had 58 points, including 28 goals, in 28 games during the 2015-16 season and postseason. Following high school, he had a successful junior hockey career, showing off his scoring prowess, both with Brookings of the North American Hockey League and Madison and Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League. With Sioux Falls in 2018-19, he had 52 points and helped the Stampede win the USHL’s Clark Cup championship.

“The biggest thing with me was just sticking to it and trying to not worry about it and just work on my game,” Borchardt said. “I knew I was good enough to play. It just didn’t happen for me as much freshman year as I would like.”

In this day and age, it would be easy to be impatient. With extra eligibility due to COVID and the transfer portal along with eased restrictions on transferring to different schools, Borchardt could have spent his first year at Minnesota State exploring a change of scenery for his second season of college hockey and beyond.

“I have a really good relationship with coach (Mike Hastings) and all the coaches,” said Borchardt, who admitted that it was a long first year. “I tried to be a positive guy, a good teammate and adjust. I tried not to worry about it. I knew my time would come, and I wanted to be ready when my time came. I felt like I did a good job when my number was called.”

Patience + Putting in the Work

Borchardt said he made sure he put the work in over the offseason, so one of the vacant spots on the line chart due to the graduation of his teammates would go to him.

“I wanted to come in my sophomore year ready to go,” he said. “I think I had a real good summer. Maybe I had more of a chip on my shoulder, but I don’t think I did anything really crazy or different. I just worked a little harder and maybe had a little motivation in the back of my mind that it was a big summer for me and I wanted to take a step the next year.”

He did take that step, even if he did start out as the 13th and extra forward on the line chart (most line charts feature 12 forwards in groups of threes) and as a player the Mavericks planned to look to as a defensive forward and penalty killer.

“You can preach patience all you want,” Hastings said. “You can tell younger guys, ‘Look at the lineup. You’re going to get your shot eventually if you do A, B and C, but not everybody follows that.”

Resilience Rewarded

Borchardt had an assist in the Mavericks’ first game that season and a goal in his third. One game later, he finished with two goals and two assists, and he started rolling from there, scoring nine points over the next six games. And he became a key player for the Mavericks as they went on to the Frozen Four for the first time in their history. To get there, he scored one of the biggest goals in MSU history, a game-tying goal with 62 seconds remaining in regulation that forced overtime in an eventual 4-3 win over Quinnipiac, the team’s first-ever Division I NCAA tournament victory.

“He forced me, as a coach, to look at him,” Hastings said. “I appreciated that. … And he just kept going. He started as the 13th forward, and he moved all the way up until he was a top six. I just think that speaks a lot of a young man's character. He stayed with it, and he was rewarded for it.”

The rewards continued into this, his third, season when he, Smith and Napravnik formed the highest-scoring line in college hockey, helping the Mavericks win a fifth consecutive MacNaughton Cup as conference regular-season champions, the Mason Cup as the CCHA’s playoff winner and the Albany Regional to get back to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive season. Borchardt had 15 goals, including his first career hat trick, going into the national tournament.

“I’m confident in myself,” Borchardt said. “I think we are all confident — or should be. I knew I was capable of it. So I wasn’t really shocked or surprised. This is what I love to do, and this is what I believe I’m best at. … I just wanted to be me and play, and I think I was rewarded.”

Hastings said there’s one word that comes to mind when he watches the development of Borchardt and similar players who have the patience to wait for their opportunity while doing the work to make sure it comes.

“I guess the one word that comes to mind is respect,” he said, “you know, from earning his opportunities and then taking advantage of them. And in today's world, one word that probably isn't in a lot of people's mind is ‘patience.’ …

“You respect somebody so much for staying with it and then getting rewarded. You're proud of them, for what they've done and how they've done it.”

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