For the first time since suffering a severe concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, forward Nathan Horton traveled with the team to be on hand as the Bruins try to win the franchise’s first Cup since 1972 in Game 7 against the Canucks on Wednesday.
“He certainly wanted to be here,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the club went through a brief workout at Rogers Arena. “We wanted him on this trip. As you know, when you get this far, you’re a pretty close-knit group. Our guys wanted everybody here and they’ve got it. Marc [Savard] is probably the only one right now that’s not here and his health varies from day-to-day, week-to-week. He’s still in our thoughts, and he’s part of our hockey club as well.”
Horton has been a huge part of Boston’s postseason run, providing game-winning goals in their first two Game 7 victories against Montreal and Tampa Bay. Even though he’s in Vancouver and the Bruins have placed his equipment in his stall, Horton won’t be able to play in this Game 7, not that he wouldn’t try if it was up to him.
“That’s something the guys wanted to do,” Julien said. “They wanted him to be part of our group here. Until, again, the third game of the Final, he was a big contributor to our hockey club. If the doctors would let him, he would play tomorrow and we all know that that’s the way he feels right now. He would be willing to play through what he’s gone through.”
“But we know that’s not the right decision to make,” Julien added. “But that’s the way he’s feeling right now. He wants to play so badly, he would be willing to play through that. So when a guy has that approach and has that will to want to do that for his team and teammates, the least you can do is honor him in your own way. Our players chose to honor him by making sure the trainers brought his equipment. Before the game, his sweater is hanging in his stall. He’s part of our team and we want him there to the end.”
Horton won’t be putting that equipment on again this season, but his presence remains strong with the club. He returned after Game 4 to pass on the club’s symbolic victory jacket to Rich Peverley, and he was back at the Garden for Game 6, firing up the crowd and his teammates when shown on the JumboTron.
“It’s genuine when guys talk about him,” Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. “Even if he wasn’t hurt, the guys would say the same things about him. He truly is a really good friend and a great guy. You saw the reaction [Monday] night. He was getting the crowd all fired up and he was getting a little teared up and I know the guys were talking about it, like, ‘Jeez, you’re making us get teared up too.’
“We know how much it means to him and to see someone who obviously came from kind of obscurity in Florida and find such a good fit for him [in Boston],” Ference added. “We’re just really happy for him. He’s our friend. We want nothing but the best for him.”
The best for Horton and the team would be having him healthy and back on the ice. But at least having him back with the club and potentially part of a Cup celebration is the next best thing.
“I was very happy to see him, and I’m very happy to have him around,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. “I just spent some time talking to him in the locker room. He’s a positive guy. His joy for the game and for life is kind of like a little kid, and that’s a great thing, and I personally feed off of that. So I was happy to see him today.”
Thomas was far from alone in that sentiment.
“It means a lot,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said of having Horton in Vancouver. “He’s a big part of our team. His presence, just him being here is special to us and we’re happy to have him with us.”