NHL players eager to chase the Cup, but saying ‘goodbye’ to family isn’t easy

NHL players eager to chase the Cup, but saying ‘goodbye’ to family isn’t easy

Bo Horvat bid an emotional farewell to his wife and newborn son earlier this month.

The captain of the Vancouver Canucks then got on a plane and headed west, unsure of when he’ll see them next.

“I knew it was going to be tough, but you don’t know until it actually happens,” said Horvat, who left Holly and little Gunnar, born June 28, back home in Ontario. “One of the toughest days I’ve ever had to go through, leaving your family behind.”

If they haven’t done so already, NHL players across North America are set go through something similar on Sunday before setting up shop in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton for the league’s 24-team restart to its pandemic-hit season.

There will no doubt be tears and hugs. Once inside those secure bubbles, players will be locked down and segregated from the general public in hopes of keeping COVID-19 at bay.

FaceTime and video conferencing platforms will have to do when it comes to staying in touch with loved ones.

“This is part of the game right now,” said Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin, who has a wife and one-year-old daughter. ”You want to be away as long as we can because that means you’re doing well and you’re going on.

“It’ll be tough leaving the family, but I’m committed to leaving and going as far as we can.”

Immediate family members — spouse/significant other and children — will be allowed inside the Edmonton bubble for the conference and Stanley Cup finals beginning sometime in early September. But when taking into account the qualifying and round-robin portions of the restart, that’s still upwards of six weeks apart.

“You want to be there in those early ages, early years to bond with them and help out as best you can,” Horvat said of being away from his son. ”But under these circumstances, what can you do?

“It’s the new normal nowadays, and we’ve got to live with it and think of the positives.”

Toronto centre Jason Spezza floated an idea during negotiations between the league and the NHL Players’ Association that likened the initial period in the bubble to the annual world championships when families are kept separate from teams before eventually being reunited later in the tournament.

“There was a large group of guys that were worried about being away,” said Spezza, who has a wife and four daughters. “It’s a good way to sell it to guys that it’s something we can do and pull off and the families can handle.

“But there’s no doubt there’s going to be some missing the families during this.”

He also stressed players are fortunate to be in this position given the devastating impact the novel coronavirus has had around the world.

“‘Sacrifice’ is a tough word to use,” Spezza said. “This is a choice. We’re choosing to go away and play. There’s a lot of people that sacrifice a lot more.”

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby joked that after more than four months at home, his wife and two kids are probably sick of him.

“That’s part of our profession,” he added of being apart. ”It’s going to be a little more time away, but realistically in playoffs you’re gone basically the whole time anyways, even game days at home you barely see your family.

“It’s not going to be too different, but (the family is) planning to go see grandparents, so I’m old news at that point.”

While players on teams advancing to the third round of the playoffs will have a chance to reconnect with family following a quarantine period, it’s a different story for coaches. They’ll have to rely on technology to stay in touch for the entire restart.

“It’s such a tough thing, right?” said Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe, who’s married with two sons. “You miss them and you love them, and the greatest challenge of all of this is the harder you work and the more success you have, the (longer) you’re are apart.”

Much like Horvat, a number of other NHLers have already said goodbye to family, not wanting to risk travel to their teams’ home cities for training camp.

Carey Price’s wife posted a touching picture to social media of the Canadiens goalie hugging their two daughters on an airport tarmac in Washington state before he flew back to Montreal alone.

“At this time in their lives they’re growing quickly,” Price said. “That makes things a little more difficult, but we’re dealing with it.”

Every player had the chance to opt out of the resumption of play without penalty, and Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith said it was a difficult decision to leave his young family behind.

“I had some pretty upset kids when I told them I was going to Edmonton and they were staying,” he said. “That was a hard choice, a hard decision.”

“The hardest day was leaving my house in Sweden,” Flames centre Mikael Backlund said of heading to Calgary without his wife and daughter. “We’re all fully committed and we’re all sacrificing something to be here.

“We’re all doing it hoping to raise the Cup.”

That’s what Horvat told himself after leaving his wife and little one behind.

“The not knowing when you’re going to see them again is the biggest thing,” he said. “But hopefully by the end of this, I’ll be putting him in the Stanley Cup.

“And everything will be all right.”

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton and Donna Spencer in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2020.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

NHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

2020 Ponoka business awards
Ponoka chamber 2020 Business Award winners

The Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce 2020 Business Awards were held… Continue reading

Ryen Williams, 11, with a lost miniature horse at JJ Collett Oct. 23. Photo by Don Williams
UPDATE: Owner found

Father and son found miniature horse while out for a walk at JJ Collett

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

(Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
Ponoka FCSS’ Empty Bowls sells out

For the first time ever, Ponoka Family and Community Support Services’ (FCSS’s)… Continue reading

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read