The scene: The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. The players: a 27-year-old ‘franchise’ goaltender and an 18-year-old London, ON-born forward who was coming off of an OHL playoff coming-out party and second-straight Memorial Cup appearance. And while the names Cory Schneider and Bo Horvat will long be linked together thanks to a Draft Day trade, the ninth-overall selection of the 2013 NHL Draft knows this will not be the climax of his story.
Rather, it’s the first chapter in what’s hopefully going to be a long and successful professional career.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of pressure. For me, it’s probably better that it was a goalie and not a player,” he said. “But it’s definitely always going to be there. It’s always going to be talked about, floating around the room, or in the media. For me I just try to not think about it, go play my game, and whatever happens, happens.
“It was out of my control, there’s nothing I could have done about it, so I just put it behind me and focus on my game.”
Horvat admitted he had no idea he was going to play a starring role in arguably the biggest part of the Draft Day narrative.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. I was just as shocked as the whole hockey world was when that happened,” Horvat said. “I wasn’t sure where or when I was going to go in the draft, or who I was going to go to. It was just the waiting game to see where I was going to go and when Vancouver called my name, I was obviously extremely excited — I couldn’t have gone to a better organization.
“I had no idea [Vancouver was interested]. I talked to them a little bit at the combine, that was about it. I didn’t hear from them again the rest of the [spring] until the draft, so it was a complete shock to me.”
Horvat was recently sent back to his OHL club, the London Knights, after participating in the Canucks’ training camp. On the eve of his first home game — Horvat had already played in one away game, recording one goal — Horvat said he was excited about the opportunity that lay before him.
“Any time you get a chance to perform up there in the NHL and be able to come back here and have a club like this to fall back on, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “And to have the Memorial Cup to look forward to — let’s hope we win it this time for sure.
“It’s going to be awesome. It’s been a while since I’ve played a home game here and so I’m really looking forward to playing more games here. I’m starting to feel more comfortable. We have a great bunch of fans here.”
Horvat doesn’t return to the OHL empty-handed. In early August, he signed an entry-level contract with the Canucks and he enters this OHL season with a wealth of knowledge gleaned from his professional camp experience.
“I just watched all of the guys and saw what they did: the workouts they did and what it takes to play at the next level,” he said. “I think that the opportunity to try to bring that back here, learn from it, and hopefully stick there in the future is going to be great.
“I learned both on and off the ice. How they handled themselves off the ice, how they prepared off the ice, their work ethic off the ice, as well as on the ice, their tendencies.I tried to pay close attention to all aspects of the game and I feel that I learned a lot there.”
He further explained that his experience showed him what he needs to improve upon this season.
“For me, it’s my speed. I just want to get faster, have quicker hands, and make quicker decisions,” Horvat explained. “At the next level you don’t have a lot of time. Getting my pace up and working on my quickness and speed will help.”
Horvat played a key role in the Knights’ march to the Memorial Cup last season. Not only did he account for 33 goals and 61 points last season, he also stepped up his play in the post-season — becoming one of the team’s leaders and scoring key goals, including a memorable OHL Championship-deciding marker with .1 seconds remaining in the game. He expects to take on an even greater role this year.
“Every year I try to be the best leader I can, both on and off the ice, and help my team win,” he said. “This year there’s even more of a leadership role — it’s my third year and the Memorial Cup’s here [London is the Memorial Cup host city].
“If I do get a letter, or I don’t get a letter, it doesn’t matter. I’m still going to be the best leader every day.”
And while he’s not going to be playing this season under the bright lights of the NHL, expect to see Horvat play a key role on the international stage. While he’s trying not to think too much about it, Horvat says that he wants to wear the maple leaf at the U20 World Junior Championship.
“Every time you get to put on that Team Canada jersey, it’s a huge honour,” he said. “For me it’s a huge adrenaline rush playing for your country against the best players in the world.
“You don’t get that opportunity every day and it’s definitely been a dream of mine since I was little to play on the World Juniors.”
“I think it will be fun. It’s definitely going to be a little different seeing them in a different jersey, playing against them,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, we’ll have lots of laughs, and hopefully Canada will come out on top this year.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard