When Jay Beagle returned to the Canucks lineup after missing six games with a lower body ailment, Bo Horvat could breathe a sigh of relief.
Not only for lessening his load in the face-off circle, but the driver's seat as well.
Horvat and Beagle carpool to the rink on game days. The arrangement started last season, when the two figured out they only live a few blocks apart. They quickly bonded over country music; their dogs; a shared love of the game.
The game of Mario Kart, that is.
As mentioned on Air Canucks, Beagle, Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Brandon Sutter play Mario Kart on the plane together.
Beagle and Mario Kart have a long history. He remembers growing up in Calgary, playing the video game on Nintendo 64 with his brother and sister. He played when he was in Washington - jokingly challenging Phil Kessel to a game during a fueled 2017-18 Stanley Cup run. When he found out a few of his new teammates broke out the Nintendo Switch for some multiplayer action between cities, it was a no-brainer.
"Bo has the upper hand on me right now. It hurts me to say that," Beagle says with a smile, suggesting he'll try to coax out the captain's winning strategies on their next drive. "When we play each other, even in something as fun as that, I don't like to lose."
Have fun. Compete hard. It's the culture Travis Green has pushed since being named the Canucks' head coach ahead of the 2017-18 season. And in their historic 50th year, fans are getting a taste of the push back; the comradery; a future carried by youth.
It's one Beagle wanted to be a part of.
Undrafted out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the 34-year-old centre worked his way through the ECHL and AHL - winning championships at both levels - before cementing a spot in the NHL in 2011. He didn't have any ties to the Canucks prior to signing a four-year deal here in July of 2018, but was intrigued by their vision and the opportunity to share his experience with a young core.
His work ethic and upbeat personality have fit right in with the Canucks and the understated, lead-by-example attributes displayed by many of their recent veteran signings.
"Jay's been awesome towards me," shares Horvat. "I've only known him for a year and a half now, but just asking him questions about his journey and how he got into the league; watching him work night in and night out, and just be the hardest worker on the ice all the time… I've learned a lot from him that way."
Horvat's journey to the NHL was more clear-cut, the Canucks selecting him ninth overall in the 2013 Entry Draft. But high expectations and criticism have trailed the Rodney, Ontario native through this hockey market. It fuels his off-season training - and subsequent improvements - each year.
Officially given the team captaincy at the start of this season, Horvat acknowledges the influence of players like Beagle, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin, in developing his leadership style. "I'm not the most vocal guy, but I'm going to lead by example and play the way I know how to play."
Beagle was quick to notice Horvat's maturity; a calm demeanor and perseverance that are hard to come by, and especially in players his age.
"As a captain, you have to be selfless. You have to put the team and others in front of you, and Bo does that very well," he adds.
Bo and his wife, Holly, host families staying at the Ronald McDonald House each home game through their Horvat's Heroes initiative.
Beagle has also embraced an opportunity to get involved in the community. He joined a group of kids from a Downtown Eastside youth program for some street hockey earlier this month.
From an outside perspective, it can be easy to forget a career in the NHL is more than what's left on the ice.
It can be quiet pre-game rituals. Making time for local initiatives.
Sometimes it's two players that grew up 3,000 kilometres and a decade apart, unwinding in car ride conversation. A little more than your typical mentor-mentee exchange, Beagle notes.
"I don't think of it as anything else than just a friendship growing."