Ready to prove that age isn’t an issue
Birthday: April 5, 1995
Born: London, Ontario
Acquired: Selected 9th overall in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks opened the 2015-2016 NHL season this past October to less fanfare than they’ve experienced in previous years. With tough playoff losses, goaltender conflicts, and coaching changes behind them, the Canucks are a team focused on their game without the weight of distractions tripping them up. The talk of the town this year seems to be their roster, and more notably, the age and ability of the roster they’ve been working to develop.
Age became an issue as the Canucks ended their last season in April. Was the team too old? Were they putting too much trust in young talent? While it’s too early to say how the prospects will play, it’s become quite clear that the younger players have brought new life to a team in need of a lift.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his first NHL game, DARPAN spoke with Bo Horvat, the 20-year-old centre who lit up the scoreboard and his labouring team at the end of last season. He finished his first year in the pros by surprising many and looking much like the Canucks needed him to be – sharp, poised and, most importantly, putting up points. Spoken like someone with much more experience than his stats show, Horvat spoke about his success as a rookie, his confidence as a sophomore and what a difference a year can make
Ranked 15th among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau ahead of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Horvat was selected 9th overall by the Canucks who traded well-liked goaltender Cory Schneider for their pick. A two-way forward who could contribute both offensively and defensively, the Canucks had selected a player who could both block shots and win face-offs.
In his second training camp with the Canucks in 2014, Horvat was hit during a pre-season game versus the Edmonton Oilers, suffering a shoulder injury that saw him sent down to Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Utica Comets. Thankfully for Bo and the Canucks, it wasn’t long before he was back in the big league and suiting up for his professional league debut.
“It’s been awesome so far,” Horvat said of his experience in the NHL. “Obviously, it’s been my dream ever since I was a little kid, to play in the NHL, and finally my dream became a reality last year.”
Horvat’s dream came true as he skated in 68 NHL games and finished his rookie year with 25 regular season points. “I thought I had a pretty good year, the team had a good year. It was fun being in the playoffs,” he says, referring to the Canucks first-round loss to the Calgary Flames. Despite the early exit, Horvat had a team leading four points in the six-game run.
“Now that I’m in my second year, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable,” he says. “Now I’m seeing young guys come in, like Jared [McCann] and Jake [Virtanen] and Ben [Hutton]. It’s been a pretty humbling experience.”
So has the pressure changed for Horvat? With his rookie season come and gone, has the pressure to perform subsided? Or does it grow alongside his success?
“I think a little bit of both,” Horvat admits. “Obviously, last year was pretty stressful, not knowing whether or not you’re going to make the team and then getting sent back down to junior but I think this year comes with pressure, too.”
“You had such a great season last year, you should be that much better this year – the fans and the coaching staff and everybody watching has those expectations,” he says. “It’s tough to live up to those but I think I’m doing a good job of it so far.”
And so far, he’d be right. Despite a slower start to the season than anticipated, he’s playing his game well by working hard to win while shouldering the responsibility to lead his team both on and off the ice. And for someone still so new to the big leagues – someone just a young 20 years old – his off-ice demeanour is making as much of an impression as his on-ice play. Horvat’s maturity, confidence and leadership have been making headlines since training camp began.
If it seems he’s adjusted well to the pressure, it’s because it’s not all that new to him.
“I’ve dealt with that kind of pressure all my life, honestly,” Horvat shares, referencing the three seasons he spent playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. “They treat it like a pro organization, so I kind of got used to it a little bit already. Being a leader there and coming in to this year where it’s a huge hockey city and everyone’s pretty passionate about the Canucks – you just try to put it to the side a little bit, not think about it too much, and just go play your game.”
With plenty of games yet to play and prove himself, Horvat’s expectations are just as high as all those who watch, cheer and scrutinize, but his goals are those of a true team player.
“You obviously want to put up some points, you want to contribute offensively but the bottom line is as long as your team is winning hockey games, that’s all that matters,” he says. “For me, I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win and eventually get to the playoffs.”
Vancouver may be the place where Horvat’s dream came true but he has other reasons to love the city that gave him his start. “It’s an unbelievable city,” he says. “It’s one of my favourites I’ve been to. I love living here. It’s nice and quiet where I am. The city’s not too busy, I don’t find, compared to Toronto or close to there. To have that peace and quiet, it’s easy to get around and obviously the sights – you can’t complain about the mountains and everything. Yeah,” he says with conviction and as if he couldn’t be convinced otherwise, “I love it here.”
Whether it’s fighting for a spot on the second line or waiting for the chance to lead the third line to the net, Horvat is ready. His confidence and comfort combined with his eagerness and ability are a welcomed addition to the team – no matter how old he or his teammates may be.
Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick / Vancouver Canucks