Elias Pettersson has one hope for Vancouver Canucks fans as ex-captain Bo Horvat makes his return to Rogers Arena on Wednesday.
“I hope they don’t boo him,” the Swedish forward said after practice at the University of British Columbia.
“He’s always been a good teammate. It sucks he’s not playing with us anymore.”
The Canucks (11-3-1) dealt Horvat, 28, to the Islanders last January in exchange for in exchange for forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty, plus a protected 2023 first-round draft pick. That draft pick was then dealt in the deal to pick up defenceman Filip Hronek.
When he left, the centre was enjoying a career-year by leading the Canucks with 31 goals and had 54 points in 49 games.
J.T. Miller, who has stepped up in replacement for Vancouver, said he and his teammates recognize what Horvat brought to the team.
“He was a great teammate, a really great friend and a really good person. At the end of the day, no matter what response from the rink, I think we know in the room what kind of guy he is,” Miller said.
“It’ll be good to see him out there.”
The Islanders (5-6-3) sit second bottom of the Metropolitan Division and come in with five straight losses after dropping a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night.
Horvat has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 games for New York this season.
“I’m going to be nervous, excited and there’s so many emotions that will be running through,” Horvat said about his return on Wednesday. “I like to think I did a lot of good, not only in the organization but in the community.”
The Canucks, meanwhile, have only lost twice in their last 10 games and are second in the Western Conference.
When Vancouver lost to the New York Rangers in overtime in October, the Canucks responded with a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators in the next game.
They did the same after a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs this past weekend with their own 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Canucks captain Quinn Hughes said that determination to bounce back is present across the entire team.
“I think our maturity level and knowing what makes us successful,” he said about the team’s ability to respond to losses. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys who aren’t going to accept losing.”
Hughes, who took over the Canucks captaincy from Horvat in the summer, has 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in the Canucks’ first 15 games of the season.
He spoke Horvat’s influence and his appreciation of his former teammate as a captain.
“People should welcome him and celebrate him on his return. He put in nine really good years, he was always solid, never complained and was a great leader someone that everyone can kind of go to if they needed to talk to someone,” Hughes said. “It wasn’t always the easiest years and he stepped right in front of it.”
The Canucks practised for 25 minutes on Tuesday out at the University of British Columbia as head coach Rick Tocchet worked to keep his players fresh.
Tocchet said the decision for a shortened practice was purposeful after a long trip.
“Value that 25 minutes. Lots of guys were doing some touches after and before practice. I like seeing that,” he said.
The Canucks will be practising intermittently over the coming week as they face the Islanders Wednesday, travel to Calgary to take on the Flames on Thursday then return for home games against the Seattle Kraken and San Jose Sharks.
Tocchet said his team will try to get the most out of their limited practice time, while also making sure players get enough rest as well.
Although he didn’t have long with him — Tocchet was announced as the Canucks head coach on Jan. 22, 2023 and Horvat was traded eight days later — the head coach said he had been looking forward to working with the centre.
“When I came in, I was salivating. It’s hard to find excellent bumpers and he’s in the upper-echelon of bumpers,” Tocchet said.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin worked on faceoffs with several players, including the recently returned Teddy Blueger who called it “awesome to learn” and get tips from the Hall of Famers ... Thatcher Demko had a dedicated drill to working on shots in the crease while backup Casey DeSmith stayed late on the ice for one-on-ones ... Tyler Myers and Carson Soucy are both expected to miss Wednesday’s game due to injury with Akito Hirose getting the call-up from the Abbotsford Canucks ... Tocchet marked his 50th game in charge of the Canucks while on their road trip.