Horvat confident Hughes can handle heavy burden of Canucks’ captaincy

Mike Halford and Jason Brough discuss the Vancouver Canucks decision to elect defenseman Quinn Hughes as the organization's 15th team captain in Canucks history and what this decision means for Hughes and the Canucks heading into the season.

VANCOUVER – A larger-than-life Canadian sportswriter once declared the only thing worse than covering an Olympics was not covering an Olympics.

Something similar could be said about captaining a National Hockey League team in Canada. It’s a stressful, debilitating, thankless job much of the time.

But if you’re an elite player and care passionately about the game and your team and will do anything to win, then you willingly lead from the front even if it means dodging and parrying the heaping quiver of arrows slung your way daily.

Former Canucks captain Bo Horvat doesn’t have to duck anymore. 

The most identifiable and exposed face of the franchise during some of the Canucks’ most turbulent and disappointing seasons this century, Horvat’s blockbuster trade to the New York Islanders last January removed that hefty ‘C’ from his jersey.

He couldn’t be happier that it has landed on the chest of Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes, who was named Monday to succeed Horvat and become the franchise’s 15th captain.

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And by happy, we mean, like, happy – because Horvat likes Hughes and believes that, despite the heavy burden the 23-year-old defenceman has accepted, he will make an excellent captain in Vancouver.

“There’s so many great guys on that team, it really didn’t matter who they gave it to,” Horvat said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Long Island. “But, I mean, if it was going to be a guy that I would pick, it would be Hughsie. I definitely think they made the right choice there.

“I really saw an evolution. As he matured and got older and I watched him grow over the four years that I played with him, you obviously saw the captain qualities develop. He’s passionate and he wants to win. I think that’s his biggest quality — that he is competitive and hates it when we lose. Those are things that you want in your captain. But he’s also respectful. He never puts anybody down. If something happens on the ice, he takes the blame. I think those are all good qualities that a captain needs. You don’t blame your teammates; you’re picking guys up when they’re down. I respect him for that.”

Hughes called Horvat during the summer to ask about the challenges of captaining the Canucks, then again on the weekend after he was offered the job following a dinner in Vancouver that included managing owner Francesco Aquilini, president Jim Rutherford, general manager Patrik Allvin, head coach Rick Tochet and Hughes’ parents, Jim and Ellen.

“He was asking questions, just getting some insight into what it was like,” Horvat said. “I also really respected that he called me to give me the heads up that it was happening. But I wasn’t surprised. He’s an unbelievable kid and he’s turning into a good man. He already is. He deserves it. He gives everything he has every single night. He’s a heckuva hockey player and a good guy in the room. He just has all these qualities a captain needs. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

And the advice Horvat offered?

“Honestly, I just told him not to change,” Horvat said. “There’s a reason why he’s the captain now. It’s just him being himself. That was the advice that Hank (previous Canucks captain Henrik Sedin) gave me. . . and I think that’s my biggest advice to him. ‘Enjoy it, you’re a captain of a Canadian NHL team with a passionate fan group that loves when you win hockey games.’ Obviously, they’re going to be hard on you (when you lose). 

“One of my biggest regrets in leaving Vancouver is not being able to win for them. I wanted to win, wanted to bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver. And I couldn’t get it done. That’s probably my biggest non-accomplishment as a captain. But I think Quinn’s got all the qualities to help turn that team around. If there’s one guy that’s going to lead the way on that team, it’s Quinn Hughes.”

Hughes was 19 years old when he made his Canuck debut, and his rookie season of 2019-20 coincided with the start of Horvat’s captaincy at age 24. 

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Tocchet immediately named Hughes and Elias Pettersson alternate captains when Horvat was traded on Jan. 30 to the Islanders for winger Anthony Beauvillier, top prospect Aatu Raty and a first-round pick that Allvin packaged to the Detroit Red Wings for defenceman Filip Hronek.

Reflecting on his time as captain in Vancouver, Horvat said his biggest challenge was trying to maintain “balance” in his life.

“Balancing my own game and my life and my family,” he explained. “It’s hard, you know what I mean? Especially in my contract year (last season) and everything that went on, the biggest thing for me was balancing trying to win hockey games, trying to be a good teammate and dealing with everything going on outside of the rink, and then not taking it home. Trying to be a good dad and a good husband. It was tough that way to balance life and hockey at the same time, especially when you’re trying not to think about yourself and just do what’s best for the team. It was stressful; I’m not going to lie. But I think (Quinn) has the mental capacity and drive and maturity to deal with that stuff.

“I loved being the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. I really, truly did. If anyone was going to take the blame after a game, I wanted it to be me and not my teammates. But to come to this organization and not have that, obviously, it takes a weight off your shoulders. You still want what’s best for the team. . . but you can just kind of go play hockey.”

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