B's laud Horton with Columbus on tap

BOSTON -- Even though Nathan Horton no longer plays for the Boston Bruins, his former teammates will never forget his contributions.

The Bruins will play Horton's new team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday afternoon at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately, Horton will not play as he continues to rehab from offseason surgery on his shoulder, which he injured during a fight with Jarome Iginla on April 20.

Horton became a free agent at the end of last season. The Bruins wanted to re-sign him and thought the top-line forward would return to Boston. Instead, Horton signed with the Blue Jackets for seven years and $37 million.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and the players were shocked.

"Yeah, I think you're always a little bit surprised because this is a great spot to play hockey," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said. "I know the team wanted him back, management wanted him back, but for whatever reason he decided to go elsewhere and that's his decision. He has every right to make those decisions. As a former teammate, I've got nothing but great things to say about Nathan. He was awesome for us."

Horton became the inspiration for the Bruins during their 2011 Stanley Cup run. In Game 3 of the finals at TD Garden, he suffered a severe concussion after a late hit to the head by the Vancouver Canucks' Aaron Rome.

Horton lay on the ice motionless and was taken off on a stretcher. His season was over.

"We're not there without him. Him getting hurt, as scary as that was and as much as you never want to see a teammate on the ice, he's a friend and you take it personally and that's the way we approached it," Kelly said. "That series we were down two games in the finals and you see Nathan on the ice and it hurt on a personal level. That's when the rivalry between us and Vancouver truly started. He was a huge part of that final series for us even though he missed four games."

Horton showed courage again last spring when the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup finals, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks. No one other than his teammates knew he played the entire postseason with a shoulder injury. During Game 1 of the finals, Horton aggravated the injury and needed to leave the game.

He was back in the lineup for Game 2 and did not miss a shift the rest of the series.

"Not many people knew what type of pain he played through," Kelly said. "He goes and fights one of the strongest guys in the league pound-for-pound. You should see [Iginla] in the weight room, I wanna leave. Nathan and him have a great fight. In the postseason that line was phenomenal and he was a huge reason why we got back to the finals. If that line doesn't play the way it does then our season is shortened a lot quicker than it was."