This is the day Bo Horvat has waited for.
The day when the New York Islanders visit the Vancouver Canucks, and he goes back to the beginning.
For the first nine years of his NHL career, Horvat was a foundational member of the Canucks franchise before a trade last January brought him to Long Island.
“You circle it on your calendar just to go back to the city where it all started,” Horvat said. “I love the city and the fans.”
But how will the fans at Rogers Arena tonight react when Horvat takes the ice? Given a comment he made last season after joining the Islanders, there’s a real chance he doesn’t receive a hero’s welcome upon his return.
“It’s been unbelievable here,” Horvat said back in April. “It’s a lot better than Vancouver. I’ll tell you that for free.”
The quote sent shockwaves through Vancouver as Horvat quickly went from a departed fan favorite to public enemy No. 1.
“I think they took it more personal than I wanted them to take it,” Horvat said. “It wasn’t directed at them. I was more upset with how everything went down last year with all the media stuff and how myself and my family were treated.”
The deal that brought Horvat to Long Island only occurred once it became clear he wasn’t going to sign a contract extension in Vancouver as an impending unrestricted free agent. Up until that point, Horvat believed he was going to remain a Canuck for his entire career.
“It definitely stung a little bit, and it’s something I didn’t forget,” Horvat said. “I said what I said. When you’re told one thing, and then the opposite happens, it doesn’t sit well.”
The Canucks selected Horvat ninth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and built their team around him in the years that followed the era of the Sedin twins. In 2019, he became their captain.
However, throughout Horvat’s time with the franchise, a series of poor decisions by team management drove the Canucks into the ground. The team was a perpetual cellar dweller, as they only made the playoffs twice during his tenure there.
Somehow, almost unfathomably, though, the Canucks are surging in their first year without Horvat, currently occupying second place in the Pacific Division with 23 points and a record of 11-3-1.
“They’re playing pretty well right now,” Horvat said. “Thatcher Demko has been playing unbelievable. I’ve always thought of him as one heck of a goaltender. They’re off to a great start.
“They added some good pieces. They have great young skill. It’s nice to see those guys do well, for sure.”
Horvat still keeps in touch with many of his old teammates. As for his current ones, they’re supporting him in what has the potential to be an unwelcome homecoming.
A few Islanders have experienced similar situations themselves.
After spending the first seven years of his career with the Islanders, Matt Martin joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016 and returned to Long Island for the first time early that season.
“It hits you in the morning and then early in the game,” Martin said. “Showing up at the rink and warm-ups will probably be a little different for him, but then you kind of forget about it. Once the game gets going, you zone into just focusing on what you need to do.”
The game itself carries heavy implications for the Islanders.
In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Islanders don’t need any added incentive to get a much-needed win tonight, but Horvat’s return to Vancouver provides a little extra.
“It will feel a little weird playing against that uniform,” Martin said. “He’ll adjust and, like the rest of us, will want to win that game pretty badly.”
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