Leaving the NHL bubble in Edmonton was bittersweet for Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat — his hockey season was over but he was headed home to his family.
Horvat and his wife, Holly, welcomed their first child, Gunnar John, at the end of June. The 25-year-old centre had to leave his family just a week later to rejoin his Canucks teammates for a playoff push.
Reuniting with his son last week was special, Horvat told reporters Thursday.
"It was pretty emotional. Obviously I missed my family a lot, I missed him," he said. "I couldn't believe how much he changed already in two months. It was pretty crazy to come back and see him the way he is now. … I'm just enjoying spending time with him right now."
It's been a big year for Horvat, both on and off the ice.
Named captain in October, the London, Ont., native led the Canucks to a 36-27-6 record, good for third in the Pacific Division, before play was paused mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vancouver came into the Edmonton playoff bubble blazing, beating the Minnesota Wild in qualifying action, then knocking off the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in the first round.
The Canucks fell just short in their Western Conference semifinal, losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 to end Canada's Stanley Cup hopes.
Being in the bubble was a great team building experience for the young roster, said Horvat, who still leads the league in playoff goals with 10.
"I think it was obviously some of the best hockey that we played all year and I think we grew a lot as a hockey club," he said. "We did a lot of good things, played a lot of great hockey."
The season set a good precedent for the Canucks' future, added defenceman Chris Tanev.
"Obviously everyone's proud of what we accomplished but we'd like to still be playing right now," he said. "And hopefully as the years go by, that's what happens."
As a pending unrestricted free agent, Tanev will have to sign a new deal in order to be part of Vancouver's future.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning told a Vancouver radio station on Thursday that he hasn't yet spoken with Tanev's representatives but hopes to get a deal done soon.
The 30-year-old defenceman said that's what he wants, too.
"I'd love to stay with the team," said Tanev, who's played his entire 10-season NHL career in Vancouver. "That's obviously the goal, to stay a Canuck as long as I can. And I haven't thought about the possibility of playing my last game (for Vancouver) right now, to be honest."
Paired with rookie star Quinn Hughes, Tanev put up one of the best seasons of his career. After years plagued with injuries, he was able to stay healthy, play every game, and put up 20 regular season points (two goals, 18 assists), followed by another seven in the post-season (one goal, six assists).
A number of factors made the difference, Tanev said, including "major adjustments" to his gear, and a team that played more time in the offensive zone.
Skating alongside Hughes didn't hurt either.
The 20-year-old defenceman — a candidate for the NHL's rookie of the year award — led all first-year players in points during both the regular season (eight goals, 45 assists) and the playoffs (two goals, 14 assists).
"He's a tremendous player and he's going to continue to be for a very long time," said Tanev. "I hope I showed him a few things on and off the ice. He showed me things on and off the ice as well. I think we grew together as a pairing."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press