Being 1: Bo Horvat

Flashback to a couple weeks ago. Back to October 22, when the Utica Comets were preparing for their 2014-15 home opener. On ice level , anxiously awaiting Tom Coyne to call his name at The AUD – Bowie Hockey, meet professional hockey.

Bowie (Bo) William Horvat, 19, of Rodney, Ontario (population 1,023) is about to officially become a professional hockey player.  Of all the NHL cities he has dreamed of as a kid, cheering for his favorite team the Detroit Red Wings or his favorite player Mike Richards, Utica, NY wasn’t on the list. But he is sure glad to be here.

Now, fast forward to Saturday October 18, 2014.  As the Comets were finishing their visit to Texas’ Southwest with the Stars, Horvat was in Vancouver.  The Canucks had just completed their contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Center.  Soaking up the early season match with his teammates is short lived for Horvat.  Within hours the Canucks’ 2013 first round draft pick (9th overall), with bags in tow, will be catching his first flight of the day at Vancouver International Airport.

A new set of teammates, in  a city he’s never visited, are in the cards for the kid many are calling a valuable ingredient to happier days for the Canucks and their following.  Before noon, Pacific Time, Horvat makes his way through security.  Vancouver to Toronto ,to Syracuse is how the itinerary reads. Picked up by car in Syracuse, as Horvat’s driver gets him closer to Utica, a highly anticipated pro career awaits its christening.

Horvat has been dispatched to Utica on a conditioning assignment.  Due to his age, Horvat is eligible to play in six games only for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate. A couple days practice, then the mid-week match with the Adirondack Flames quickly approaches.  Horvat is anxious for in-game ice time.

“I haven’t played in a game for the past two to three weeks,” says Horvat after his first day of practice as a Comet.

Comfortability equals productivity.  The more Horvat gets “his legs under him”, as he evaluates his progress, the better for the Comets and Canucks.  Anticipation is high on Horvat to produce numbers for Vancouver as he did last season in the OHL.  In his third season as a London Knight, in 54 games, Horvat spun heads in amazement when he netted 74 points (30-44-74) in just 54 games.

There are four other teammates, all number one draft picks, who could understand what is going through Horvat’s head.  Regular, ordinary, these words, especially from hockey fans, don’t equate towards Horvat.

Comets’ coach Travis Green perhaps has the best insight on Bo’s output at The AUD. “He’s been good during his first two pro games; a very responsible player.  I like what I see in him.  He should of had a goal for us tonight,” Green said after Friday’s Comets-Rampage match.

The stat sheet for last Wednesday’s game with Adirondack, for Horvat are nearly invisible.  Skating before a sold-out AUD, Horvat is credited with two shots on goal, and sat in the box for two minutes.  Cross-checking was the call.  But, this 19-year old is anything but a normal teenager – even in Utica.

Outside the Comets’ dressing room, there are more media members than normal, all presumably waiting to speak with the number one drat pick who will be forever connected with the Cory Schneider trade that sent the Vancouver goalie to the New Jersey Devils, in return for the pick that landed Horvat with the Canucks. With lights, cameras, and microphones surrounding him, Horvat presents himself with the poise of someone years advanced.  He is polite, careful in choosing his words, and not in awe of neither his position in the organizational depth chart or of the demands of Canucks fans.

Horvat, being just 19 and with the NHL club, has had to grow up quickly. As was reported in The Vancouver Sun on October 2, six days before the start of the Canucks’ regular season, Horvat injured his shoulder on the first shift of a 2-1 pre-season win over Edmonton.

When exiting the dressing room that night, Horvat’s left arm was in a sling. At the time Horvat was favored among Canuck rookies to make the 23-man roster.  Predicted stardom suddenly was put on hold as Canucks faithful held their collective breathes waiting for the latest news. Ultimately, it amounted to just another hurdle to conquer for the son of Tim and Cindy Horvat.  Born in London (ONT), 42 miles south is Rodney. This is where the relaxed, well-mannered teenager learned his craft.

What’s the ceiling on how Horvat’s career will be built?  The fair assessment is still out, and still a ways away..  But, as a top draft pick, the spotlight never dims.  In 2011 Horvat was the 9th overall selection by London (the same team his dad briefly skated for in the mid-’80′s).

The early morning practices and living away from home (although Horvat played in London, he chose to live with a billet family to cut down on commuting) paid off. On August 6,2013 Horvat signed a three year, entry level contract with Vancouver.

Every shift, of every game is fair game to prognosticators, scouts, and commentators for Horvat.  It’s part of the territory of being a top draft pick.  The Hockey News has a scouting report that reads like this on Horvat: “Quality two-way forward with upside.  He can play both center and wing. After five games with the Comets, the scouting report does not look wrong.

At 6′ 206lbs., Horvat, who shoots left, should be used to others doing their part to define him, and his game.  In a report on Yahoo! Sports Canada, Buzzing The Net called him a “wizard in the face-off dot”.

International Scouting Services head scout Ross MacLean  offered this to say about the future of Bo -”Simply put, he is the total package. He plays a strong two-way offense. A first or second-line center in the NHL.”

At the 2013 draft held in New Jersey, Horvat was ranked 15th among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.  International Scouting ranked him 10th overall among eligible skaters.  Bottom line, as an elite prospect, Horvat is a can’t miss draft pick for the Canucks.  The process naturally remains fluid.  Becoming the all-purpose remedy for success requires developing time.

On where his future lies, back to the OHL for a fourth season or returning to Vancouver to officially start his NHL career, Horvat keeps it simple. “All I want to do is concentrate on my game and stay focused.  Where I play is not up to me.  Staff and management will determine where I’ll be.”

There was no hiding his feeling last Wednesday after the home opener.  Horvat described his first Comets experience as “awesome”.  As for being a number one, and reminded of that early and often, Bo states that he tries not to think about that. Doing what he can to help his team win is now, and always has been, Horvat’s top priority.

Along with other current Comets who hold the distinction of being labeled as first round draft selections – Bobby Sanguinetti, Niklas Jensen,Hunter Shinkaruk, and Brendan Gaunce, they can relate to Horvat’s on-going experiences.  Perhaps, for Horvat and all their shake, it’s positive therapy to have one another in the dressing room and on the ice.

This past Sunday Horvat’s conditioning assignment ended, and he was recalled back to Vancouver. There is no doubt that an exciting future lays sprawled out in front of the Canucks’ prospect. But one thing is already cemented into place; the exciting professional hockey career of Bo Horvat made it’s debut right here in Utica, NY.

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