Bo Horvat and his wife, Holly Donaldson, were elated as they awaited the birth of their first child. They were also understandably nervous as her pregnancy endured during Canada’s first wave of COVID-19.
“It certainly wasn’t easy,” Horvat, the captain of the Vancouver Canucks, said this week. “It is one thing to get ready to have a baby, and another to be doing it during a pandemic. There was a lot of uncertainty.”
The couple’s baby boy, Gunnar, was born two weeks early on June 28. A week later, Bo left Southern Ontario, where they had been staying, for a training camp with his teammates in Vancouver.
“It was a crazy whirlwind,” Horvat said. “I had only a week at home with him before I had to ship out for training camp and then entered the [NHL playoff] bubble in Edmonton. When I left, it was one of my hardest days ever.”
Mother, baby and dad are all doing fine, but the experience gave Horvat a better understanding of the mental and emotional hurdles people are dealing with as a result of the spread of the novel coronavirus. It led him to become the spokesman for the Fuel What Matters campaign, an Imperial Oil-sponsored initiative to raise awareness and funds for mental health.
The energy company is donating $5 for every download of its Speedpass+ app through Oct. 28 to support mental-health organizations across the country, up to a total of $140,000. Those that will benefit include addiction and mental-health services, crisis and distress centres and adolescent and family health programs.
“When I heard about it, I wanted to be a part of it,” Horvat, 25, said. “Mental health is as important as physical health.”
The NHL joined other major sports and suspended the regular season on March 12. Games resumed on Aug. 2 with a postseason tournament expanded to 24 teams from 16. Vancouver won its qualifying round against the Minnesota Wild, surprised the Stanley Cup defending champion St. Louis Blues in the next and took the Vegas Golden Knights to seven games before losing in a bid to reach the Western Conference final.
Horvat has never been better than he was during the postseason, during which he scored 10 goals in 17 games while helping his teammates navigate through challenges caused by playoff isolation.
“The biggest thing for us was being away from our families," Horvat said. “We did a good job talking about it when things were bugging us. You need to keep a little bit of sanity in the moment, and do some normal things like talking to friends.”
Horvat was appointed the Canucks captain at the beginning of the 2019-20 season. He inherited the captaincy from the retired Henrik Sedin, who had held that role for eight years.
“You always want to be supportive and to be a leader, but as the captain you want it more,” Horvat said. “It was a crazy year to be the captain. I think I had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at me. But I think that has helped me grow as a person.”
Horvat understands that he is privileged to be a pro athlete, and that others are suffering heavily through the pandemic, whether it is from being alone to losing their jobs and mounting economic worries. A survey released this week showed that 25 per cent of Canadians feel they are worse off now mentally than during the first wave of COVID-19.
Cases are rising rapidly across the country and in some major cities more restrictions are being put in place.
“I consider myself to be very blessed and fortunate where I am,” Horvat said. “What has happened to people’s everyday lives is very tough mentally and financially. Everyone needs as much help and support as they can get. [Collectively] we need to reach out to everybody.”
Horvat is reunited with Holly and Gunnar and the family’s French bulldog, Gus. The couple were married in July of 2019, and announced in January that Holly was expecting. Then came COVID-19, complicating lives in innumerous ways.
The NHL is unlikely to begin play until January at the earliest. Because of the pandemic, all seven Canadian teams may be placed in one division to avoid travel across the border into the United States. Until then, Horvat is biding his time.
“I am home and enjoying fatherhood,” he said.