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Markus Naslund: My open letter to Bo

Horvat on how to be the Canucks captain

By Thomas Drance (/author/tho… Oct 9, 2019 51

Dear Bo,

We have only met once, but I wanted to congratulate you on being named the
new captain of the Vancouver Canucks.

It’s a great honour and you’ve earned it. The team went through a full year
without a captain. They’ve had a lot of time to make this decision and there’s
a reason they picked you. That says a lot about you as a natural leader.
I’ve always heard good things about you from bumping into Henrik and
Daniel Sedin over the years. When I’ve been over in Vancouver and I’ve had
an opportunity to watch you play, I can see that you play the game like a team
player.

Even from afar, it’s clear that you have the respect of your teammates. And
from the fans in Vancouver.

Now I’d like to offer you some advice: I hope you use the “C” as a motivating
factor, as something positive.

I hope you don’t let it wear you down. It’s something that can push you, that
can motivate you. I know I always felt like it helped my career, and if you use
the responsibility the right way, you can use it to push yourself.

To do that, I think it’s important that you don’t let it be bigger than it is.

Like you, I was an alternate in the season before I was named captain 20 years
ago. And like you, even before I was named captain, I already felt like I was
looked upon as one of the leaders on the team anyhow.

The game on the ice didn’t change much for me in my first season as captain.
I don’t think it will change much for you.

Where things did change was off of the ice and away from the rink.

Obviously the media part is a big factor. The fans in Vancouver are so
passionate, so you always know that after a game is over, you’re going to be
the first one to get asked tough questions. You have to be prepared for that.

Having to answer a bunch of questions when you’re frustrated and your team
has just lost is tough, but it’s something I tried to honour, even when it was a
tough game.
It’s an important quality, even if it’s not the best part of the job.

It’s a fine line between being too personal and maintaining your privacy, but
looking back, I think I maybe should’ve been more humorous at times with
the media. I took those interviews too seriously.

And it’s not just speaking to the media.

It’s addressing the team and all of a sudden being looked at to give speeches. I
remember my first year as captain, there was a dinner at the Jake Milford. I’m
talking to the team and thanking the volunteers and I was trying to thank the
alumni for doing a great job. But I got stuck on some word — I think it was
“community” or “charity” — and the room was dead silent for what felt like
minutes, even if maybe it wasn’t that long.

Obviously that’s something I had to get better at as I went along.

The thing is, Bo, the best advice you’re going to get isn’t “This is what you
should do if you’re ever captain.” It’s about what you have already. What
you’ve already learned by watching and asking questions.

I learned by watching how the captains I played with carried themselves.

Like Mark Messier, how he personified a team-first mentality.

And Trevor Linden, how he really cared about everyone – whether you’re a
rookie call-up or a veteran – how he gave everybody the same attention and
time.

And Mario Lemieux, he wasn’t the most vocal guy, but he had this amazing
presence. He’d toy with teams and he was just that much better than everyone
else. At home games he was the last player to step out on the ice and Tina
Turner would come on and “Simply the Best” would play — once the visiting
team heard that, I’m sure a lot them had a good idea they weren’t winning.

And Ron Francis, I saw how he would get his message across using humour,
even though he was an intimidating guy.

They all cared about their teammates. They didn’t put themselves on a
pedestal, even though they could’ve. They treated everyone fairly. And all of
them had one thing in common: that humble character.

That’s why they were great leaders, great captains.

You had a great captain too in Henrik. You’ve learned more from him than
you maybe even realize.

He is the perfect example of how to lead by example. At first, he was shy and
just wanted to focus on hockey. As he grew up in the NHL, I could see that
leadership shining through.

He stepped up in key moments, he was always accountable and he was a great


player as well. He stood up first to answer tough questions after hard losses
and big wins both. He earned his teammates’ respect by how he acted all the
time and the unselfish manner that both he and Daniel had.

Those are the lessons that will really matter as you grow into being Canucks
captain.

Finally, Bo, I know about the pressure of being the captain in Vancouver.

I was in a situation where I got to wear the “C” and we had some good teams
that had the potential to win, but we didn’t achieve the goal we had. I felt — I
still feel — like we could’ve gone a lot further, and I take a big chunk of that
responsibility on my shoulders. I was the one wearing the “C” — I was
supposed to be the one leading the team to the ultimate goal.
When you know the fans care so much, it feels like it’s your responsibility to
do something that they can cherish. That’s what makes Vancouver so special
to play in, but it’s also what makes it so important to keep things loose in the
dressing room.

I remember what Francis told me in Pittsburgh, when I was struggling a bit


and he took me aside one day and said, “You have four things to worry about
on game day: eat, sleep, give me the puck and come late.” He said if I did
that, he’d get me a goal.

Joking around like that, a lot of the times, it’s a good skill for a captain. It’s
easy to get too tense when you’re focused on doing well, but make sure not to
lose perspective on the things you love and what a great life you have in the
NHL.

Remember to enjoy it because when the pressure is so high, you can forget
about some of the things that let you play loose and relaxed. And when you’re
loose and relaxed, you play your best hockey.

Bo, I hope you enjoy playing that first game with the “C” on your chest. It’s a
great honour and you deserve it.

And good luck! You have a chance to be the first captain to ever raise the
Stanley Cup wearing a Canucks jersey. How amazing that would be.

(As told to Thomas Drance)

(Top photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Thomas Drance (/author/thomas-drance/) covers the Vancouver Canucks as the Senior Writer for the
Athletic Vancouver. He has 10 years of hockey media experience as a journalist, editor and author,
including stops at Canucks Army, theScore, Triumph Publishing, the Nation Network and Sportsnet. In
2017, he was named VP, Public Relations and Communications for the Florida Panthers where he
spent three seasons. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasDrance
(https://twitter.com/ThomasDrance).

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