For everything Bo Horvat embraced and endured as the 14th captain in Vancouver franchise history, the former Canucks centre knew being traded last season to the New York Islanders didn’t mean losing touch with those who made a lasting impression.
It’s why Horvat spoke to Quinn Hughes on Sunday, a day before the dynamic defenceman was named his successor to don the “C” here in a city where support and scrutiny are as certain as winter rain. Horvat also took to Instagram to praise Hughes.
“Couldn’t happen to a better person. Well deserved. Happy for you, brother.”
The sincerity wasn’t lost on Hughes because there are lessons to learn about Horvat’s fishbowl existence here.
“It means a lot,” said Hughes. “He’s a great teammate and a great person and I enjoyed playing with him. He never complained about anything and just went about his business. Things happen and you move on. It’s part of the business.”
It’s also a way of saying accept the torch and don’t get burned in the process. Hughes follows Horvat, Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo, Markus Naslund, Mark Messier, Trevor Linden, Dan Quinn, Doug Lidster, Stan Smyl, Kevin McCarthy, Don Lever, Chris Oddleifson, Andre Boudrias and Orland Kurtenbach as franchise captains.
“I’m sure I don’t necessarily understand it to the point. I will this time next year,” admitted Hughes, who has connections with elite NHL players and leaders and can pick their brains.
“But watching Bo and different people and Millsy (J.T. Miller) and Petey (Elias Pettersson) and how they handle things — and even different guys like Brady (Tkachuk) and (Dylan) Larkin and some guys I skate with like my brother Jack — I’m just going to keep piecing it together and do the best I can.
“All I know is I feel really excited to start the season and I really want to win.”
It’s why Hughes stayed quiet while the decision process played out last week. He knew who he could lean on and who he needed to approach.
“I wanted to respect the privacy of this (captaincy),” said Hughes. “Just talking to Brady yesterday (Sunday) and I don’t know if there’s a young guy that would be in my shoes as captain in a Canadian market (Ottawa). We kind of grew up together.
“Two people I haven’t leaned on enough are the Sedins, with me being so busy and it just being crazy throughout the season. They know what it means to be a captain and leaders.”
Others found out last season.
On April 6 against Chicago, Hughes was assessed a third-period roughing minor for putting Andreas Athanasiou in a head-lock as part of a bizarre sequence. Kyle Burroughs drilled Lukas Reichel into the bench and Athanasiou rushed to his teammate’s defence by grabbing the nearest player, thinking it was the guy who nailed Reichel.
It was Hughes.
“I don’t know what I was doing — it’s been long season and I was just frustrated,” said Hughes. “I’m not a tough guy by any means and I don’t want to do that a lot.”
Nobody was complaining in the room. They were applauding.
It was the same story during an edgy Feb. 14 practice where head coach Rick Tocchet was looking for an increased battle level in a mini 2-on-2 scrimmage.
Hughes got his back up in a brief but testy shoving match with hulking winger Dakota Joshua to end the practice on a fitting note.
“I’m a leader now (alternate captain) and I want everybody to get better,” reasoned Hughes. “I need him (Joshua) to be the best he can be. And I need to push myself and other guys. We’re not getting enough and that’s why we’re not in the playoffs.”
Said Joshua: “He’s making sure everybody is pulling on the rope and I loved seeing him get fired up like that. We could use more of that every day around here.”
Sounded like captain material.
Fast forward, and Monday’s news conference was fitting.
Delaying the decision would only lead to more captaincy debate. Doing it now means getting back to work at informal skates at the University of B.C. in advance of training camp in Victoria. That’s where Tocchet can really put his stamp of “non-negotiable” expectations for fitness, focus and execution.
And with an ally like Hughes, the messages won’t fall on deaf ears.