After consecutive Ontario Hockey League championships but no Memorial Cups, Bo Horvat and his mates on the London Knights will be seeking a reversal of fortune later this month.
Horvat, the elite Vancouver Canucks’ prospect, and the Knights were bounced from the OHL playoffs in the second round April 11, beaten by the Scott-Walker coached Guelph Storm. But the Knights were already guaranteed a berth in this year’s Mem Cup as host team. So they were not done. Far from it.
Their main problem was trying to avoid dying of impatience as they awaited the Memorial Cup. The national tournament opens May 16. The Knights’ last game was almost four weeks ago. That’s a long time between outings and plenty of practice days for Bo and the boys.
“We’ve been in kind of a boot camp type of thing,” Horvat explained this week from London. “We had nine days off after our last series and then we got back at it. We go three days on and one day off until the Memorial Cup starts. The first day is more battle drills, the next day is systems and then the third day is speed skating with some hard skating at the end to keep us in shape.”
Sounds like fun. The Knights can thank out of-work Quebec League coach Danny Dupont for the practice plan. Two years ago, Dupont was an assistant with the Shawinigan Cataractes, who were in the same position as London is today.
They were Memorial Cup hosts, fell early in the QMJHL playoffs and then had to wait multiple weeks for the national tourney to begin. They wound up winning it, too, edging Horvat and the Knights 2-1 in overtime in the final. Knights head coach Dale Hunter brought Dupont on board this spring for his expertise in these matters.
“We are doing the exact same program that Shawinigan did that year,” said Horvat, selected 9th overall by the Canucks last June. “It’s been tough but it’s been good for us. I think it should get us ready for the Memorial Cup.”
There is, of course, a delicate balance between rest and rust. The three teams that emerge from the Western, Ontario and Quebec Leagues will be in peak form but they may also be bruised and beaten up. Bo knows how that feels. After the Knights prevailed in the 2013 OHL final in a Game 7, they were on a plane to Saskatoon for the Memorial Cup two days later. They made it to the Cup semi-final before biting the dust.
“In a way, it’s great for us to get everyone back and healthy,” said Horvat. “Our team has played a lot of hockey the last three years. In our series against Guelph, not to take anything away from them as they are a really good team, we had some guys missing and other guys who were sick and playing hurt. We didn’t have a healthy lineup.
“I was sick myself for a bit during that series. I had a kind of virus, sore throat, fever and all that kind of stuff. It was tough but no excuses. You have to try to battle through it and help your team win. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough gas in the tank, I guess.”
Horvat, listed at 6-0 and 206 pounds, is expected to bid for a spot on Trevor Linden’s 2014-15 Canucks. He is a blue chip two-way centre, good in the defensive zone, good at protecting a lead, good on faceoffs and good on the power play. He collected 74 points in 54 regular-season games and added another 11 in nine playoff outings. He was also a member of Team Canada at the world juniors.
He is mostly focused on Memorial Cup preparations but admits the Canuck situation still occupies some of his thoughts. As a recently turned 19-year-old, Horvat is in the NHL-or-bust category for next season. If he doesn’t make the Canucks, it’s back to junior for him.The regime change, however, hasn’t filtered down to him.
“I haven’t really talked to anybody about that,” he said. “You are kind of wrapped up in your own season, your own game and how your team is doing. I think this season, absolutely, has been a really big help in my development and in getting quicker. My pace has been a lot better and, hopefully, I can prove myself in the next Canucks’ training camp.
"You try not to think about it too much but, at the same time, you want to make it to the NHL as quickly as possible.”
Stan Smyl, the Canucks’ director of player development, has been watching Horvat closely along with Ryan Johnson, who was added to Smyl’s department this past season. Smyl has been impressed with Horvat’s performance.
“Bo’s development has gone really well,” Smyl said. “He’s a very solid, elite-level two-way type of forward. He is a determined player, a mature player and a clutch player. You don’t see a lot of negatives in his game. I think the biggest thing for Bo next year coming into camp is that he pushes other people for a job. If he does that, we’ll see where it comes out in the end.”
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