Wednesday, November 5, 2014
It only happens once.
Forward Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks suffered a shoulder injury after getting hit by Edmonton Oilers forward Tyler Pitlick in a pre-season game on Oct. 2.
The Canucks, led by president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning, had been open about giving Horvat every chance to make the NHL team.
His debut would have to wait, though.
The injury was worse than just a day-to-day one.
But then, On Oct. 15, two games into the regular season, Horvat took part in a entire practice session with the team.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I was getting a little stressed being off the ice for so long and stuff like that. After a good pre-season, it was awesome to get back out there with the guys and start practising again and start getting my speed back and my timing. I was really happy to be out on the ice.”
It wasn't only the first time Horvat had practised with the team; it was also the first time he disclosed his thoughts on Pitlick's hit to the media.
He wasn't bitter.
“It was just a hockey play,” Horvat said. “There was nothing dirty about the hit. I saw him coming in the last second and just tried to brace myself and, unfortunately, he hit me a little awkwardly. I kind of injured myself there. It’s definitely not a a dirty hit by any means, it was just unfortunate that it hurt me.
“It was definitely tough. You definitely want to stay healthy. This is the first time I've been hurt . . . It was a little frustrating, but it's going to happen in hockey. I just have to move forward and start thinking positive and just take it day by day.”
Horvat skating with the team led many observers to believe that he was going to make his debut, and soon.
That wouldn't be the case, as he was sent down to the Utica Comets, the Canucks' AHL affiliate, on Oct. 19 for a conditioning stint.
After that was completed, Horvat was officially recalled to the Canucks. In five games with the Comets, he was pointless.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I was actually really happy to go down there and to get my legs back under me, and to start playing some hockey games before I stepped into my first NHL game. I definitely need to get my speed back and stuff like that, and my timing. My time there was really good.
“(I played in) my regular role, playing that 200-foot game. I had some power-play time, some penalty-killing time. (Comets' head coach Travis Green played me) in every situation. I couldn't complain about my ice time and stuff like that. I think in playing in all those key roles and playing in my regular position is really going to benefit me. I was jumped around in the lineup a little bit. I was pretty much playing with everybody. It was good to play with all different types of players with (different skills).”
This time around, it was only a matter of time until he wore a Vancouver sweater for his debut.
“It's going to be awesome,” Horvat said. “I can't wait to finally play a NHL game in the regular season. Hopefully, it's going to come soon and I'm going to have to make the most of it.”
It came on Tuesday, when the Canucks made a visit to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche. It marked the beginning of a four-game road trip.
“I'm just really excited,” he said. “I had trouble sleeping last night, actually. I was thinking about the game pretty much all night. Now that today's come, I'm really excited and I can't wait to step out there on the ice.
Horvat's brother, along with his parents, were slated to be attendance.
“It's definitely going to be emotional,” he confessed. "It's going to be really exciting and stuff like that. I'm definitely going to be a little bit nervous. But I think I'm more excited than anything. I just can't wait to finally play in my first NHL game, it's something I've dreamed about since I was a little kid, and it's finally going to come true today. I think it's going to be lots of fun.”
His parents and brother weren’t the only ones excited for him. Willie Desjardins, the Canucks' head coach, was, too.
“(To) enjoy it,” he said when asked what he said to Horvat prior to the game. “You only get to do that once. I think that it's a big accomplishment. So many players set out to do that and not many make it. So, it's a big accomplishment. Just make sure you're having fun and go hard.”
However, where Desjardins was going to put him, remained unconfirmed.
“Playing centre is definitely my most comfortable position,” Horvat stated. “We'll see what happens tonight, (to see) who I'm playing with and where I'm playing. If I do get (a) centre spot, it's going to be more comfortable for me and hopefully I have a good game there.”
It turned out that he would get what he wanted, as he was placed on the fourth line, flanked by forwards Derek Dorsett and Jannik Hansen.
That being said, Desjardins started the game with Horvat at centre with Henrik Sedin and right-winger Radim Vrbata. Sedin, who usually takes the opening faceoff, gave Horvat the honour of doing so.
He won it.
“Oh gawd, no,” Horvat said with a laugh when asked if he was expecting to start the game. “That was probably the last thing I thought I was going to be doing. Then, when they announced that I was going to be starting with (Vrbata and Henrik) there, it was pretty special. I was nervous, but I was glad to get the first draw and the first shift out of my way.”
The freshman almost scored his first goal, as well.
Vancouver was trailing 2-1, when the Canucks scored at 2:27 of the second period to tie the game. It looked like it may have been Horvat who put the puck in the net.
But after further review, it was Dorsett who scored.
“It was pretty close,” Horvat said. “I was trying to get to the net there. They made a great play putting it on net and I just wanted to go to the net and cause havoc. Unfortunately, it just went by me. I was just happy that we scored.”
His debut would come in a victory, as Vancouver went on to defeat the Avalanche, 5-2.
“It was unbelievable,” Horvat said. “It's hard to describe. It's a moment that I been dreaming about ever since I've been a little kid. I always wanted to play in the NHL, and to finally make that dream come true today was definitely something special
“I'll never forget this.”
NOTES: Horvat was a plus-1 and led the team in faceoff percentage. . . . Vancouver D Kevin Bieksa, who suffered an eye injury against the visiting Nashville Predators on Sunday, dressed against Colorado and was a plus-2. . . . Canucks D Ryan Stanton returned to the lineup for the first time this season. . . . Vancouver will travel to San Jose to face the Sharks on Thursday.
(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent. Follow him on Twitter at @DLLiong.)