By Ryan J. Harr
Both in their first season with the Rochester Americans. One a 23-year-old from Sweden and the other an up-and-coming 22-year-old defenseman from Minnesota. Both have played key roles in helping the Amerks qualify for the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs.
And now both can say they made their National Hockey League debuts with the Buffalo Sabres.
For the better part of the season, Victor Olofsson was a name that Sabres and Amerks fans alike were anxiously awaiting to see given a shot in Buffalo. After building a very strong case of leading all Amerks in both assists (33) and points (60) in 64 games, Olofsson, Buffalo’s seventh-round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft (181st overall), was finally tapped to make the trek down the I-90 thruway to the KeyBank Center.
The Swedish forward, who tallied 27 goals in first season with the Amerks after posting 27 in the Swedish Hockey League last year, earned his first-career call-up to Buffalo on March 27. The next night, he would be making his NHL debut.
“It was a dream come true,” explained Olofsson on his two-week NHL stint. “As a child, I grew up wanting to someday play in the National Hockey League. Once I found out the news from ‘Tayls’ (Amerks head coach Chris Taylor), it was a crazy feeling. I immediately thought of everyone who helped me along the way.”
“There is nothing better than telling a guy he is being called up,” admitted Taylor. “Seeing how much Victor has developed this year is awesome. He has put in a lot of work over the season and very much deserved the chance to go up with Buffalo. It was a situation of what he could do up there, but it was because of what he has done here.”
After tossing and turning for much of the night prior to making his NHL debut, Olofsson arrived inside the Sabres locker room and was greeted with a lot of familiar faces. Some he knew from either training camp several months prior and then there were the ones he played alongside all season in Rochester. Nonetheless, the familiarity allowed him to settle in and become more comfortable in his new surroundings.
“It definitely helped having some familiar faces in the room,” the Örnsköldsvik, Sweden native said. “I got the chance to play with most of the Sabres during training camp but having ‘Borgs’ (Will Borgen) and ‘Larry’ (Lawrence Pilut) helped calm some nerves.”
During warm-ups of his first official contest inside KeyBank Center, Olofsson led the Sabres onto the ice, but his teammates let him take a few laps while they stood behind watching, a customary tradition or rite of passage for a guy set to make his NHL debut.
“It was pretty cool to do that,” joked Olofsson. “The guys had a lot of fun with it. That night and the other five games, several other players on the ice congratulated me on making it to the NHL. It all was very special.”
In his first game as an NHL player, Olofsson made an immediate impact as he had a team-high five shots and recorded an assist on captain Jack Eichel’s 100th career NHL goal in the third period against the Red Wings.
“That usually is my mindset,” explained Olofsson after the 5-4 overtime loss. “It’s one of my objectives prior to every game. I did a pretty good job with that. I did some good things and there are some things I need to improve on moving forward.”
Two days after making his highly anticipated debut, the forward notched his first-career NHL goal in the third period of a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders as he roofed a wrist shot from the right circle while on the man-advantage.
“Anytime you score it helps build confidence,” Olofsson admitted. “As great as it was getting the first goal out of the way, it was too bad it did not matter too much or help the team. Scoring a goal early on when joining a new team or league, it helps keep the focus on playing the game rather than when you do not find the scoresheet.”
During each one of his six games with Buffalo, where he finished with a pair of goals to go with an assist, Olofsson was paired with Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who began his professional career with the Amerks at the end of the 2014-15 campaign.
“It was great to play alongside those two players,” Olofsson said. “They are super talented players, with a lot of skill. They both helped me almost after every shift and I think that helped us to find chemistry.”
While Olofsson has been the subject of much talk with the Amerks in his first season with the club, Borgen has been one of blueliners that has been excelling under the radar.
After joining the Amerks last season for a brief stint, the rookie defenseman has appeared in all but one regular-season game for Rochester and earned his first-career recall nearly 12 months after signing his first professional contract with the Sabres.
“It was awesome to play some NHL games,” said Borgen, who skated in four contests with Buffalo. “The outcome of the scores we’re not the way I had hoped they go, but it was definitely a cool experience.”
Borgen is not considered an offensive-defenseman by any means as he tallied 12 points (2+10) through 69 games with Rochester, but he’s never turned down an opportunity to let the opposition feel his presence either.
“He plays with a lot of poise for a first-year guy,” explained Taylor. “It was great for him to get an opportunity to show people in Buffalo exactly how much he has developed this season. I am very proud of him. From where he was last season to now, it’s unbelievable. Will has matured as a young man and his game has come along very well.”
Despite Borgen’s family not able to make his first NHL game in Ottawa on March 26, they made it to Buffalo for the March 28 game against the Red Wings, joining Olofsson for his his debut.
“Sharing the news with my mom and dad about being recalled was something very special,” said Borgen, who was Buffalo’s fourth-round selection (92nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft. “It was a pretty awesome moment and they were very proud of me.”
Like Olofsson, Borgen was welcomed in the room by other Amerks as well as Buffalo’s first-overall draft pick from a last year in Rasmus Dahlin, who he got to play with during the Sabres 2018 Prospects Challenge.
“All the guys welcomed me right away,” Borgen said. “It helped playing with some of the guys in Rochester and some during the summer. The coaching staff talked a lot to me and my time with the Amerks helped prepare me for that opportunity. A lot of the structure between the clubs is very similar, so all those factors made the transition pretty much effortless.”
Following the completion of the Sabres season, Borgen, Olofsson, Pilut and Alexander Nylander all were reassigned back to the Amerks as Rochester is set to begin its quest for its seventh Calder Cup Championship and first since 1996.
“It was a pretty special moment that I’ll never forget, but now we’re looking forward to a deep playoff run in Rochester,” said Borgen.