VANCOUVER – One of the longest trips of Bo Horvat’s off-season was a two-hour drive to Toronto from his home in London, Ont. He got vaccinated.
“I was phoning around to see if there were clinics that had extra Moderna,” Horvat said Wednesday, explaining that he didn’t want to just wait passively for his age group to be summoned for its second dose. “I found one just outside Toronto. Just drove there, lined up and got vaccinated.”
Horvat, 26, said nobody recognized him as the Vancouver Canucks’ captain.
But his eagerness to become fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 should be recognized.
No team in the National Hockey League was ravaged by the coronavirus last season like the Canucks were at the start of April when 25 players and coaches were eventually stricken with the debilitating P.1 variant that drove COVID-19’s third wave on the West Coast.
Horvat, his wife, Holly, and their baby, Gunnar, all eventually contracted the virus that caused the Canucks to shut down for two weeks.
Besides being the team’s captain and longest-tenured player – after defenceman Alex Edler signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Kings in July – Horvat also represents his teammates within the NHL Players’ Association.
The league and its players’ union last week released protocols for the 2021-22 season that do not force players to get vaccinated, but outline significant restrictions and stern consequences, including loss of pay, for players who choose to ignore science and become sick or otherwise unavailable to their teams.
“Considering everything that’s gone on, there’s obviously different situations that people get put in and they can be vaccinated or not,” Horvat told Sportsnet. “But for me, if you’re able to get vaccinated, I think you should. I’ve had COVID before and it’s no joke. This vaccine works and it’s helping people not get sick. I got (vaccinated) right away, as soon as I could.
“So I encourage everybody to go get it. I think it’ll get the world back to normal. Hopefully guys realize that and go get vaccinated — for everybody’s safety and health and their family’s health.”
Horvat said the benefits of vaccination shouldn’t be a tough sell among Canucks players.
“No team in the league — maybe a couple others — know what having COVID is like like we do and our families and our kids do,” he said. “To protect all of them, I encourage everybody to go do it. Hopefully everybody does.”
If there are any Canucks players who arrive for the start of training camp on Sept. 22 and aren’t fully vaccinated, Horvat said a little peer pressure could go a long way in ensuring the team is able to play, practise and travel safely together for what the organization hopes is a major bounce-back year from last season’s disaster.
A handful of Canucks, joined by several Vancouver-area pros from other NHL teams, have begun pre-camp skates at the University of B.C. The daily sessions will move inside Rogers Arena next week.
On Wednesday, Horvat’s training group included regular linemate Tanner Pearson as well as rookie Vasily Podkolzin, veteran leader J.T. Miller, starting goalie Thatcher Demko and new third-line centre Jason Dickinson.
Key newcomers Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland and Jaroslav Halak have yet to arrive on the ice, and young stars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes remain unsigned as restricted free agents. But Horvat said there is already excitement about this season after the Canucks plummeted from last summer’s playoff-bubble breakthrough in Edmonton to a last-place finish in the Canadian division in May.
He said he loved the aggressiveness of the Canucks’ off-season, as general manager Jim Benning gambled draft picks and $43.6-million of future cap space to take on Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes in a blockbuster trade that also brought Garland, a top-six winger, to Vancouver.
“I think it’s a great message: I think it means that Jim wants to win now,” Horvat said. “I kind of went through the rebuilding stage, and it’s not really fun. It’s not fun losing and I don’t want to go through that again. And I think my time to win and our time to win is now.”
Horvat has played 502 games for the Canucks, but just 23 more in the playoffs, since making the team as a 19-year-old centre in 2014. With two more years under contract at $5.5-million per season, the captain’s competitive clock is ticking.
“Really loud,” Horvat said. “This is going to be my eighth year already, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I think I’ve gotten better as a player. But as a team, you know, we’ve made the playoffs twice. I want to make the playoffs every year. I think that’s when I play my best hockey. I think that’s when the Canucks play their best hockey. I think we have something to prove.”