ONLY IN AMNEWYORK
ELMONT, N.Y. — Bo Horvat hates making excuses, so when things go wrong, he’ll more often than not tell it like it is.
With the Islanders struggling to close out games in the third period — blowing 10 leads in the final 20 minutes and losing five of those games this season — Horvat told it like it was after his team blew a 4-1 third-period lead to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday before losing in overtime, 5-4.
“It’s always in the back of your mind, maybe a little bit,” he said, while some of his other teammates danced around the sort of mental hurdles such struggles entail. “It’s sad to say and it’s happened so many times this year where it’s hard not to think about when you’re going out there again, that it’s gonna happen again.”
“At the end of the game when we don’t win or we don’t close out games, that’s on us,” Horvat told amNewYork. “I just try to speak honestly and I try to be honest with myself, too, about my game. I think that’s the best way to approach it.
“Nobody is a harder critic on me, than me… and as a team, I’m just speaking personally, right? Some people can see it completely different but I try to be honest with myself and with the team. Accountability is such a big thing, I think.”
The 28-year-old center, who was acquired by the Islanders in January, has already become an invaluable extension of the franchise’s veteran leadership within the locker room thanks to an ability to speak frankly, but to do so constructively.
“He’s a guy who’s been in this position before and always has great things to say and he has a good feeling about what’s going on and what needs to be said sometimes,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “You can’t have too many guys that know how to handle these situations.”
Lee added that Horvat’s transition to assuming such a role within the Islanders’ locker room was “pretty seamless,” upon his arrival, which from an outside perspective could appear to be a daunting task.
After his relationship with the Canucks, which lasted 621 games across eight-plus seasons, disintegrated following ineffective contract talks, he was traded midseason to the East Coast of the continent where he not only had to adjust to a new organization, but uproot his family in the process.
Waiting for him on Long Island was a veteran-laden group whose foundation and leadership core had been largely untouched for the better part of the last six years.
“I didn’t want to be stepping on anybody’s toes or be loud and obnoxious right away,” Horvat said. “I just kind of kept to myself. Then when you go to dinners and get to know the guys a little bit [you start to open up]. But at the same time, I’m not going to be here hooting and hollering and be obnoxious. That’s not the right way to approach it.”
Instead, Horvat isn’t afraid to hold proverbial office hours to provide insight to his teammates — sometimes of that constructive variety — but to also have them “bounce things off of him,” as Lee described it. Open lines of communication in the locker room then help keep a united front.
“He’s fit in since Day 1,” Islanders winger Kyle Palmieri said. “He’s an awesome guy… he’s been awesome as a teammate and as another leader in this room.”
Part of those responsibilities that come with being such a well-regarded teammate is handling the media, which Horvat has had plenty of experience doing in the more hockey-crazed Vancouver market.
“We all know what the Canadian media market where you go home and there are four different channels analyzing your game from that night,” Palmieri said. “It’s one of those things where it’s hard to get away from.”
Everything Horvat did, especially toward the end of his time in Vancouver, was put under a microscope and even when he left, he couldn’t escape it. He took accountability during the Islanders’ stretch run ahead of the playoffs when he said the crowd at UBS Arena was “a lot better than Vancouver,” and apologized after his name was put through the wringer.
All in a day’s work to keep the attention — and sometimes ire — off his teammates whether it’s an instance of a comment or the actual play on the ice.
“I’d rather them blame me than the rest of my teammates. That’s kind of the way I look at it,” Horvat said. “If anybody can take it mentally and take it head on, I think I have the mental capacity to take it like that. Some people are completely different and mental health is a huge part of the game and a huge part of life these days. But I take criticism as fuel or however you want to say it.”
His words certainly aren’t the only things that set him apart. His willingness to stand up for his teammates has also earned the locker room’s admiration. It was no more obvious than on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings when Horvat’s linemate, Mathew Barzal, was clocked with a big open-ice hit by defenseman Andreas Englund.
Horvat immediately dropped the gloves in what would have been just the sixth fight of his career before New York blueliner Scott Mayfield stepped in to intervene and take on Englund himself.
“Bo’s a stud,” Barzal said. “He’s handled a lot of pressure and a lot of criticism and he always takes the high road. He’s a special guy and a special player and he’s shown that… It means a lot to me and the guys on the bench.”