VANCOUVER — It’s been a "heck of a year" for Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
When he was handed the jersey with a C stitched over the heart just over a year ago, Horvat had no idea he'd soon be leading the Canucks through a season unlike any other, all while balancing his own growing family.
"What a first year to be captain. I think I’ve had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at me this year, just with everything going on and obviously the whole pandemic and Black Lives Matter," Horvat said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The 25-year-old centre saw a lot of change in his personal life, too, as his wife, Holly, welcomed their first child, Gunnar, at the end of June.
"It’s been a crazy year and definitely one I’ll never forget," Horvat said. "And I think it’s just going to make me a better person, a stronger leader."
Even with some unusual circumstances, the Canucks had a strong season. The team was 37-27-6, good for third in the Pacific Division, when the NHL paused play due to COVID-19 in March.
Vancouver picked up steam in the Edmonton bubble, dispatching the Minnesota Wild in qualifying action, then beating the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Canucks were eventually ousted from post-season play after a seven-game battle with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The experience left everyone on the squad wanting more, Horvat said.
"You come off such a high, you’re one win away from going to the conference finals," he said. "We feel like we have more to prove and I feel like we can get better next year. I can speak for everybody on our team in saying that we want to get back at it and prove ourselves again."
When, exactly, the Canucks will have another chance to chase a title remains to be seen. The NHL has set January 1 as the target for starting next season, but plans are far from confirmed.
As captain and Vancouver's representative in the NHL Players' Association, Horvat has fielded many questions from teammates who want to know what's going on.
"There’s so much uncertainty," he said. "I’m answering questions all the time and trying to give them my best answers. It’s been a lot, but it’s just going to make me a better leader in the long run."
Uncertainty is something Horvat, like many others, has had to get used to as the world copes with COVID-19.
It's made being a new parent a little tougher, he said. Horvat and his wife want to share all of the special firsts with friends and family, but have to put the health and safety of their son above all else.
"You want to be so careful. Everything you do you think about your kid. He comes first," Horvat said.
One potential upside of the uncertain hockey season is that the family may get to be around loved ones come the end of December.
"We might be home around the holidays which might be nice for a change. You know, have Gunnar’s first Christmas here at home with all our family, which might be nice to do," Horvat said. "But again, all the uncertainty of it is challenging. The not knowing is the thing that bothers us the most. So hopefully we get things figured out."
Horvat knows he isn't alone in finding the unpredictable nature of the current situation challenging. To help others struggling during the pandemic, he's teamed up with Imperial Oil for the "Fuel What Matters" campaign.
The oil company is donating $5 for every download of its Speedpass+ app to mental-health groups across the country, up to $140,000.
"Mental health is just as important as physical health," Horvat said, adding that talking has been getting him and his family through the pandemic.
"I think talking about it and sharing it and telling people that ‘You’re not alone through this’ is the biggest thing."
Slowly, more and more athletes have begun to speak out about their own mental health, including Horvat's Canucks teammate Tyler Motte, who has publicly discussed living with anxiety and depression.
Horvat said it's good to see more people in the hockey world talking about their experiences.
"Opening up is not a bad thing at all. If anything, it shows a lot of courage," he said.
"I think it’s helping out a lot of players and helping other people come out and share what they have to say. And I think that’s huge, not only for the game, but for other people in general who see that they’re not alone. People are going through the same things all around the world and all around the hockey community."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2022.