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Bo Horvat’s experience reminder of human side of Canucks’ COVID-19 crisis

VANCOUVER — It was a birthday video that would both make you smile and break your heart.

When Bo Horvat turned 26 on Monday, in quarantine in the basement of his own home, the Vancouver Canucks’ captain sent a birthday present back to his parents in Rodney, Ont. It was a video of Holly Horvat feeding the couple’s nine-month-old son, Gunnar. It was filmed through a window.

“It totally breaks your heart,” Cindy Horvat, Bo’s mom, said. “Over Easter and now his birthday, and just knowing the position he’s in, it just hits home. He’s sick and you can’t be there. He’ll always be my baby.”

The Canucks centre is sick with COVID-19, one of 21 members of the team’s hockey operations staff who are on the National Hockey League COVID protocol list amid the most dangerous outbreak of this pandemic-shortened season.

The good news, Tim Horvat told Sportsnet, is that so far both Holly and Gunnar are healthy.

Bo’s dad said he hasn’t been able to sleep since the coronavirus hit the Canucks last week like a tsunami, shutting down the team indefinitely, sickening the majority of players and endangering their families, too.

There is a pile of hockey-related issues to be navigated. But talk to Tim and Cindy Horvat for a minute and you quickly realize the true impact of this crisis is a human one, not a hockey one. Each player is a son. Many of them are also fathers and spouses.

“I worry so much about Gunnar because he’s only at nine months,” Tim said. “I just worry about him like crazy. I mean, you always worry about your own kid and you worry about Holly, for sure. But it’s the little ones. Their immune systems, you don’t know how they are. And with the new variants, they don’t even know how that is towards kids. It’s all pretty scary.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t slept good since it started. I’ll wake up at three, four in the morning just thinking about them. You want to text them but you know you can’t because they’re sleeping. And then when you get up in the morning, you want to text them but you don’t because it’s only four in the morning (in Vancouver). It’s constantly on your mind. It’s the parenting. You want to be there, you wish it was you. I wish it was me there.”

Tim works for Chase Insulation near Rodney in the largely rural area southwest of London, Ont. Cindy runs a hair salon but has been forced to close the business due to coronavirus restrictions. Their other son, Cal, Bo’s younger brother, is training to be a police officer in London.

Those early hours are the hardest part of Tim’s day, when he has finally given up on sleep but has to wait for the Pacific time zone to catch up so he can call or text Bo for the first of several daily updates.

“I keep looking at my clock and hoping it’s 10:30, 11,” Tim said. “OK, it’s 11, so you know it’s eight o’clock there, I’ll give him a call. But then you think: Am I bugging him too much? I told him right away: ‘If you’re feeling down or depressed or you just need someone to talk to, we’re just a phone call away.’

“He says: ‘I’m doing OK, Dad, I’ll be fine. I just worry about Gunnar and Holly, but I’m going to be fine.’ My focus now probably isn’t as much on Bo because I know he’s getting better. But now it’s on Holly and Gunnar.

“When Bo sent that (Snapchat video) of him looking through the window, that kind of broke my heart. You know, it’s Bo’s birthday and he can’t be with his family because he’s downstairs and they’re upstairs. That was kind of tough, right? I really worry about the Sutters, the Roussels, the Myers — everyone’s that got it and has families. You worry sick for them. I do.”

He said he texts Brandon Sutter and several other Canucks. Sutter emceed at Bo and Holly’s wedding in 2019.

“What’s Bo been there, seven years now?” Tim said. “You get to know these guys on a personal level. I know people look at them as professional athletes or whatever. When I see them at the arena… I’m giving them hugs. They’re just normal guys that have families, and you just worry sick for them all.

“Bo and Holly and Gunnar, at least they’ve got each other, thank God. But I feel for the single guys like (Quinn) Hughes and (Brock) Boeser and Petey (Elias Pettersson) and (Nils) Hoglander. I mean, they’re on their own. I think of them guys just like I think of my own kid. Honestly, I love them all. It just bothers the hell out of me, praying that they’re all going to be okay.”

Tim said Bo reports feeling better. As of Monday, he was still getting headaches and feeling tired but was doing better than he was after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday, Tim said.

Tim and Cindy Horvat typically travel to Vancouver at least a couple of times per season to visit Bo and see him play, and will meet the Canucks on the road most times the team is near Ontario.

Cindy said she knew this was going to be a difficult winter, cut off from her son and his family since Bo, Holly and Gunnar returned to Vancouver in December. Everyone understood there would be no visits in the season of COVID, that Gunnar and his grandparents wouldn’t see each other again until after the Canucks finished playing.

“It has probably been a little harder than I expected,” Cindy said. “They had to leave just before Christmas, so of course it was kind of bad timing. And having a little one, too — this is the first time he’s been gone for so long. It has definitely been tough. And then you’re always worried about them catching it, and then sure enough, it happens.”

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