VANCOUVER – The greatest week of his life ended with one of his most anguishing days when Bo Horvat said goodbye to his wife, Holly, and their new son and returned to the Vancouver Canucks seven days after baby Gunnar was born.
Due to the National Hockey League’s open-ended playoff schedule and strict isolation guidelines in the summer of COVID-19, the 25-year-old Horvat doesn’t know when he will hold his first child again.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Horvat said Wednesday in a conference call, three days after leaving his family to prepare for training camp at Rogers Arena. “But you don’t know until it actually happens. Leaving Sunday was one of the toughest days I’ve ever had to go through, leaving your family behind. I think just the not knowing when you’re going to see them again is the biggest thing. Hopefully, by the end of this, I’ll be putting him in the Stanley Cup and everything will be alright.”
Every parent understands how quickly newborns grow and change. If you blink, you may miss something. A day is like a week, a week like a month, and being away for up to three months, well, that length of separation is almost unbearable.
If the Canucks are successful this summer and keep playing, Horvat will feel like a stranger to Gunnar when he returns home to London, Ont.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see them next,” Horvat said. “I’m trying to FaceTime them pretty much every second of the day. Just trying to keep in touch that way, see him as much as I can over my phone. Hopefully, he doesn’t forget about me.
“I miss him, obviously. You want to be there at those early (days). . . to bond with him and help out as best you can. But under these circumstances, what can you do right? We’ve just got to live with it and think of the positives.”
That first week – from Gunnar’s birth on June 28 to Horvat’s departure on July 5 – was like a gift for the Horvat family.
Holly Horvat was scheduled to deliver by C-section on July 14, a due date that caused Bo sleepless nights trying to figure how he could be there for his wife and baby and still serve as the Canucks’ captain amid coronavirus complications and the NHL’s unprecedented summer Stanley Cup tournament. Holly and Gunnar took matters into their own hands.
“She ended up going into labour on Sunday, the 28th,” Horvat said. “She just said she didn’t feel right. We took her to the hospital. I can’t go in, so I just dropped her off. She just said: ‘Go home, relax, it’s probably nothing.’ Dropped her off at 530 pm and we had the baby at 730 pm. She was having contractions. Next thing you know it was 30 seconds apart and she was like: ‘Boy, you got to get down here right now, we’re having the baby.’ I got there at 7 pm and we had the baby at 730 pm.
“It was the best week of my life, hands down. Holl and I are really happy to have the little man in our life. He’s been a blessing for us, for sure.”
As the Canucks’ representative in the NHL Players’ Association, Horvat was close to the negotiations that ended with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with owners and strict return-to-play guidelines. He knew he could opt out of summer hockey.
“Not one time have I ever thought about opting out,” he said. “I want to be there for my teammates. I want to be there when the season gets going and be a part of winning here. Being there for the birth and trying to figure out when to join the camp. . . I was still trying to figure all that out all the way up until the day he was born. I’m happy he came a little earlier and he’s healthy and doing well and I got to spend a week with him and Holl before I came out here.”
After passing his coronavirus screening, Horvat began skating in Vancouver on Tuesday with a group of eight players – all domestic air travellers quarantined together this week. Players are staying in a hotel and keeping apart from other Canucks training groups: players who flew into Canada and are subject to our country’s 14-day quarantine, and players who either never left Vancouver or were close enough to drive back for training camp.
Camp starts Monday. The Canucks will open a five-game preliminary-round series against the Minnesota Wild on or about Aug. 1 in Edmonton.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Horvat said of the separation from Holly and Gunnar. “At the same time, at the beginning of the year, we set out a goal to make the playoffs and have a chance at the Stanley Cup, and we have that. If I’m going to be away from my family and put my time and effort into coming back and playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I want to go all the way. I want to try to win this thing so it’s not just a waste of time and being away from my family for no reason.”