DENVER - The Mile High City is known for its brilliant art scene but one artist's ice show at $20 a pop has caught the attention as one of the top performances in the country. Meet Henrik Borgström, 'The Artist,' who hales off University and Jewell on the campus of the University of Denver.
The Pioneers are used to finding future stars from all over the United States and Canada, places like Colorado, California, and Alaska are some of the states that the Pios have traditionally been able to find top talents. Thus, when assistant coach David Carle took a recruiting trip to Helsinki, Finland in September 2015 to try and pry one of the top hockey prospects in the world to Denver, he was definitely taking a shot in the dark.
It took a persuasive in-home visit, lots of letters and a couple of christmas cards and that landed DU hockey the extraordinary newcomer from the norse.
“Denver was the team that wanted me the most and that’s why I wanted to come here,” the freshman forward explained.
The decision the Finnish sniper made to play hockey at Denver has paid off for everybody. The Pioneers are the No. 1 ranked team in the country and a big reason for that is because of Borgström. He currently leads the team in goals (15), points per game (1.12) and power play goals (7).
“The kid is special,” head coach Jim Montgomery said about the freshman phenom. “And when he wants to takeover a game, he can do it. You don’t see that too often at this level.”
In most professional sports, the only route for athletes to make it to the pros is through the NCAA. In hockey, if a player is trying to get to the NHL, he has a few more options. Borgström had offers to play for his hometown team in the Finnish Elite League (a pro league in Scandinavia), in the Canadian Hockey League and then multiple offers to play college hockey.
“It was actually pretty weird,” Borgström said on his decision to play college hockey. “My advisors told me about some Finnish players that played college hockey. Right away I was pretty excited about it, then I got a contract offer from my hometown team. But I’m really lanky and I want to get stronger and that was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to come here. There’s so much time for working and we also have a lot of games too.”
A few months after Borgström decided to play at DU, the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder was drafted 23rd overall in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers. He became DU’s fourth first-round draft pick in program history. The first one since Beau Bennett in 2010, who hailed from Gardena, CA and is currently playing for the New Jersey Devils.
Transitioning into a new country can be a difficult task for any 18-year-old, but Borgström said that it has gone better than expected and is really enjoying his time in Denver.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been away from home,” Borgström explained. "I haven’t felt as homesick as I thought I would before I came here. We have a great freshmen class and that made things a lot easier, just being around all the boys everyday, it’s pretty cool.”
Borgström arrived a couple of weeks before classes and practices begun so he could start to get acclimated early. During that time, some of the DU hockey alumni, some currently playing in the NHL, were training with the team.
“When I arrived here in mid-august,” Borgström said. “There were guys like [Paul] Stastny and [Tyler] Bozak and we were playing with them. It was cool to see what the pro players do on the ice and just how smart they are and I think that helped me a lot.”
It seemed like every decision that Borgström made leading up to the season, paid off. So it’s no surprise that the Fin is having an excellent freshman season. He leads NCHC freshmen in nine different statistical categories, including points, goals, plus/minus and shots on goal. The only other freshmen that is anywhere close to Borgström in terms of production is, Avalanche prospect and current North Dakota Fighting Hawk, Tyson Jost.
The first thing that catches the eye while watching Borgström play is his magnificent wrist shot. As quick and accurate as a laser, which begs the question, how did he develop such a great wrist shot?
“I don’t know man,” Borgström replied when asked that very same question. “That’s what I’ve kind of been wondering too. Before this year, I hadn’t been scoring that much. I feel like I was more of a playmaker and I used to dangle a lot, I like that stuff more. But this season, I don’t know, maybe it’s the different rink, I just feel more confident with my shot and I’ve used it way more than when I was in Finland.”
One of the places that the freshman forward can utilize his shot the best is on the power play. He’s currently tied for the NCHC lead in power play goals with seven. Head coach Jim Montgomery described his team’s first power play unit like this, “You can see the rhythm on the power play is they know what they want to do and then if all else fails just get the puck to Borgström.”
‘The Artist’ is quickly becoming a special player for the Pioneers. The thing about first-round picks playing college hockey is that they only stick around a year or two. It’s time appreciating what Borgström is doing for the Pios right now because it’s may not last, he makes a $20 ticket look like the best bargain in town, because his ability to brush the net with the puck is worth every penny.