Canucks riding Horvat’s coattails as captain shows off mental toughness

Gene Principe explains how the Vancouver Canucks are trying to normalize winning as they are up 2-0 on the St. Louis Blues.

EDMONTON – Difficult as it is to believe, Bo Horvat’s virtuoso performance on Friday, in which his pair of spectacular goals included the Vancouver Canucks’ overtime game-winner, was not the biggest weekend event for the Horvat family from rural Rodney, Ont.

Horvat’s cousin, Kristin Kovacs, was getting married on Saturday. Bo was supposed to be in the wedding party, but instead had to celebrate in the National Hockey League bubble, where his surprising team has a 2-0 series lead on the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues heading into Game 3 here Sunday.

Horvat is related to Kovacs through his mom, Cindy’s, side of the family.

“He was in the wedding party, but he really couldn’t get involved,” Tim Horvat, Bo’s dad, told Sportsnet over the phone. “He didn’t know if the NHL was going to resume, and he was involved in the CBA (negotiations). And with the baby due, he didn’t know what he was going to do. He was probably going to make the decision to stay back until the baby was born, and then the baby comes 3½ weeks early. It’s been a whirlwind. But mental toughness, he can handle it, that kid.”

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Horvat, 25, has handled a lot as the Canucks’ youngest captain since Trevor Linden.

At the moment, he is handling the Blues.

Horvat has scored four goals in two games of the first-round series, and his six goals in six post-season games lead the Stanley Cup tournament.

He is leading the Canucks from the front, and his teammates are following. “Riding his coattails,” linemate Tanner Pearson described it on Friday.

Named captain last fall after being groomed for the job almost since he arrived in the NHL six years ago at age 19, shortly before the Canucks plunged to their nadir, Horvat is playing the best hockey of his life while achingly separated from his son, Gunnar, whom Holly Horvat delivered ahead of schedule on June 28.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The hardest day of his life, Bo said, was leaving Gunnar and Holly on July 5 to return to Vancouver for training camp.

“It’s super tough,” Tim Horvat said. “We try and go see Holly as much as we can to support her. Holly is a remarkable mom. It’s not easy looking after a newborn baby and Gus the dog. But I’m so proud of her and how great a mom she is.

“I’ll probably get choked up telling you this. (He did). Cindy and I took Bo to the airport. Cindy and I were out in the garage with Holly’s mom, and we just let Bo say goodbye to Holly and Gunnar. Bo came out to the garage with tears in his eyes. He got in the car, didn’t say nothing, and he just broke down.

“This is the part I think I’m so proud of with Bo: You can’t teach mental toughness. You can’t teach that. When Bo was 12 years old, he left home to pursue his hockey dream. That was the toughest day of my life, taking him to Toronto. And then it comes full circle where Bo has to leave his newborn, and we’re taking him to Toronto again. It was not easy on any of us. He’s pretty good at keeping his emotions bottled up, but when it comes to family, he’s pretty passionate.”

This goes for Horvat’s hockey family, too.

Asked after Wednesday’s 5-2 win in Game 1 against the Blues about Canucks teammate Troy Stecher losing his dad on Father’s Day, Horvat was suddenly swamped by emotions and couldn’t speak. Two days later, his joy at scoring to help his team win was equally evident. After he embarrassed Blues veterans Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz on a solo shorthanded goal, he turned towards the glass with a magician’s ta-da gesture, only to find the empty stands unresponsive.

But his teammates are responding.

“I think they’re really tight,” Tim Horvat said. “That’s his family. Away from home, that’s his family. He respects and loves every one of them. I can honestly say, he has never bad-mouthed one player to me. In all the years, he has never said anything negative to me about a teammate. It’s amazing.

“When he got named captain, I just figured he could handle it. But it’s also his first year with a young group, and Bo’s got to learn, too. I know he wasn’t very happy with Game 1 (in the qualifying round against Minnesota). We had a little chat and I said: ‘You have to remember that being captain is an extra pressure all the time, no matter what.’ He just said: ‘Dad, I’ve got to be better.’ That was it.”

Canucks coach Travis Green said Vancouver’s elimination of the Wild and these first two games against the Blues are maybe the best three games he has seen Horvat play.

He buried Friday’s overtime winner after a brilliant stretch pass from Quinn Hughes.

“This is so funny,” Tim Horvat said. “After Gunnar was born, I said: ‘Bo, when Gunnar gets older, that kid is going to score goals.’ Bo stops me, he says: ‘Dad, I’m going to tell you right now, Gunnar is going to be like Quinn Hughes – a defenceman who can handle the puck, control everything and do everything.’ I said: ‘OK, I’m good with that.’ Honest to God, that’s what he said.”

• Canucks coach Travis Green offered no medical update Saturday on defenceman Tyler Myers, who was injured Friday on an unpenalized hit from behind by Schenn. Green said veteran defenceman Jordie Benn, who rejoined the Canucks in Edmonton after attending the birth of his child in Texas, should be ready to play if needed. Myers has remained in the Edmonton bubble.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.