Ryan Horvat aiming to lead a path from Springfield to Florida

Author: Adam Reid, for PHPA.com
Date: Aug 16, 2017

Entering his second season with the Springfield Thunderbirds and fourth of his pro career, 24-year old Ryan Horvat is looking to improve on his role as a hard-working veteran leader.  Although the term veteran may come as a surprise to some, it is his hockey resume that has earned him the title rather than his age.  In back-to-back seasons, Horvat won the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) Cup with the Guelph Storm in 2013-14 and the American Hockey League (AHL) Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs in 2014-15.  He’s hoping to add another championship in 2017-18.

Horvat grew up in Simcoe, Ontario, a hockey hotbed about two hours southwest of Toronto. “Growing up in southern Ontario really helped my development as a player,” said Horvat.  “There are rinks everywhere and people constantly helping out in the community, devoting their time to grow the game. We also had ex-professional guys like Rob Blake who would like to help out a bit which really gave us someone to look up to as players.”

Following a successful minor hockey career with the Brantford 99ers, Horvat was invited to try out for the Guelph Storm of the OHL.  Although he was not drafted, nor did he make the team right away, he was constantly told to stick with it by coaches and scouts.  This dedication paid off when he made his OHL debut with the Storm in 2009.

“Coaches and scouts were always saying that I wasn’t quite there.  But they understood that everyone hits their peak at different times.  After playing Junior A for a while I got a call from Guelph around Christmas saying they needed me, and that was really what made me choose the OHL over the college route.”

After his first four games with Guelph, Horvat still wasn’t given a full-time role.  He continued to develop in Junior A through the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, while playing in a total of 13 games for the Guelph Storm.  Although some players may have felt disenfranchised, Horvat persisted.

The next season, Horvat was not only in Guelph’s line-up on a full-time basis, but he had developed into an integral member of the team.  Over the next three seasons, he would play 172 games and record 83 points with a tight knit group of teammates.  “I’m glad I took the OHL route,” he said, “It was a great experience with a great group of guys. It was always the whole group going to do things together whether seeing a movie or grabbing dinner, not just 5 guys doing one thing and another 5 doing something different.”

Following his third and final full season with Guelph, Horvat and his agent began weighing options for the next phase of his hockey career.  “Playing in the Memorial Cup really was a great opportunity for me, and it led to the opportunity for me to attend my first NHL camp.  I had the chance to pick between Chicago and Anaheim and ended up choosing to go out west,” Horvat recalled.  “It’s funny because it was actually the Los Angeles Kings that noticed me during the camp because we played them in a preseason game.  They offered me an AHL/ECHL deal which was awesome because I wasn’t sure I was even going to get a contract at all.”

Horvat reported to the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire, and although he was originally listed as the 14th forward on the Monarchs’ depth chart to start the season, he didn’t have to wait long to make his professional debut. 

“The team assigned a player to the ECHL so I became the 13th guy on the roster.  Then right after that, a guy cut his finger pretty badly while cutting up some chicken.  We went from having too many guys to not enough guys, so I ended up getting into the lineup and getting my first professional point which was an unbelievable feeling.  I just had to make the best of every shift.  It was a great learning experience.”

Horvat finished his rookie season with the Monarchs playing 52 games, registering 11 points and 89 penalty minutes.  That season though ended up being invaluable for Horvat’s career development.  Becoming a full-time AHL player would have been enough by itself, but having the chance to be part of a Calder Cup playoff run after winning the OHL Championship the year before was something he couldn’t have imagined.

“The guys on that team like Jeff Schultz were great guys to have around and learn from.  Being part of that team and win a championship really helped turn me into a better leader.”

Following the 2014-15 season, however, the minor hockey landscape changed, when the AHL announced that five teams would be playing in California the next season.  This included the affiliates of the Los Angeles Kings, who relocated their AHL affiliate to Ontario, California, and flipped their ECHL affiliate from Ontario to Manchester.  The end result meant Horvat would be playing out west for the first time in his career.

“I found the hockey culture out there was pretty similar to back home.  The fans were always so into it.  It really was fun playing in California.”

The biggest change, and something Horvat did not expect to affect him as much as it did was the weather. “It didn’t really feel like hockey season to be honest, it was always a little harder to stay focused because you could show up at the rink in a t-shirt and shorts.  We were lucky to have a great coaching staff though who always kept you focused on the task at hand, rather than sitting out by the pool like most people in California.”

Although he has already built a solid resume, Horvat knows that just because he has been a winner in the past does not guarantee him a spot in any league.  Following the 2015-16 season, Horvat was almost out of a job in professional hockey and was thinking of going to University to get a degree.  “I didn’t want to play as a 13th forward so I was looking into attending University.  It was around September 18th, right before the season was starting, when I got a call from my agent pretty much saying ‘you’re going to the Florida Panther’s camp, can you be ready in 48 hours?’  So I packed my bags and flew down for training camp.” 

Horvat made a good enough impression on the Springfield Thunderbirds coaches, who were running the training camp, to earn himself a contract and a roster spot with the Panthers’ AHL affiliate.

Horvat’s play and leadership style were evident as he was soon named an Assistant Captain for a very young Springfield Thunderbirds team. “I think my experiences of winning in Guelph and Manchester gave me a good reputation with the guys in the room,” said Horvat.  “I got the chance to play with some older guys on those teams, guys that are great leaders and have been around the league for a while. I think seeing the way those guys act and play really made a positive impression on me.”

He also recalled the work he put in each and every day with Springfield.  “Seeing the way the older guys carried themselves each day really had an impact on me, and it was a great feeling to know that in Springfield I started to get recognized for the hard work I was putting in.  They saw that I was a good leader, and that I was always one of the first people at the rink and one of the last to leave.”

On top of serving as Assistant Captain last season, Horvat was also the Thunderbirds’ Player Representative for the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA) following the trade of Mike McKenna,

“Mike (McKenna) asked me at the start of the year to be the Alternate Player Rep, I think because our team was so young.  Next thing I know he gets traded and I’m now in charge of being the Player Rep,” said Horvat. “It’s a great role to have.”

Horvat represented his teammates at the Association’s 50th Annual Meeting of Player Representatives this past June in Orlando, Florida, which was an eye-opening experience for him.

“I must say, attending the Annual Meeting was definitely a good experience.  I got the chance to learn so much about the other side of the sport, meet some great people from around the game, and gain a better understanding of what the PHPA is all about, it’s 50 year history, and everything they do for me and my teammates.  It was an awesome time.”

With a new season right around the corner, Horvat is focused on coming into camp in top shape.  “Right now I just need to make sure I get to camp healthy and stronger than ever.”

This upcoming season, there reason for optimism for Ryan Horvat and his Springfield teammates as the Panthers lost some forward to free agency and the expansion draft, which could provide new opportunities at the NHL level. “If I keep working the way I have these past few years, maybe I can work my way into an NHL contract.”

 

 

 

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