The Magic of Pavel Bure
For the Canucks 50th Anniversary season I’m reprinting some of the cooler stories I got the chance to write about The Canucks. I was lucky enough to interview Pavel Bure early on in his time in Vancouver. The response to this story was so positive that a Vancouver publisher approached me about (ghost)writing his bio. Sadly, they didn’t land the rights so… no Bure book from me. I also got to interview Pavel’s dad — who was kinda scary — I’ll see if I can find that story too.
The Canucks are going through their routine drills and Pavel Bure is on the ice talking to one of the coaches when, suddenly, he does a couple of quick behind the back twirls with his stick that look like something a Ninja would do to terrify his enemy before attacking. It’s unlikely the flashy move was to show off — most of the thousand or so fans who had crowded into Victoria’s Memorial Arena for a glimpse of the Canucks left an hour earlier when the scrimmage match ended. And there’s nothing on his face that acknowledges he’s done something out of the ordinary — if anything, the move appears to have been almost unconscious.
But there’s nothing the least bit ordinary about the way Pavel Bure handles a hockey stick. Over the last 22 years, the Canucks have had plenty of good players, an abundance of solid get-the-job-done players, but they’ve never had a true superstar before. Until Pavel Bure captured the Calder trophy last year for the league’s top rookie, no Canuck player had ever been honoured with an individual award.
This season the Canucks have a few players who can lay claim to star status. For two years running, Kirk McLean has proven himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL. Captain, Trevor Linden, is recognized as a dangerous force whenever he steps on the ice. One of the most fascinating statistics of the previous season was that when Linden scored a goal, the team almost always won the game. And last year, Jyrki Lumme transformed from a defensive liability into a contender for a spot as an all-star defenseman.
But what Bure brings the Canucks is something the team has never seen before — and something every team dreams of. Bure is not just a game-breaker, he’s a game-maker. He’s the reason fewer fans are leaving the Coliseum early. The mere possibility of one of Bure’s spectacular goals makes it worth risking an extra half hour attempting to escape from the PNE parking lot. The Canucks can be losing five to nothing, but if Bure makes one of his end to end rushes and slides the puck past the opposition goalie, the entire evening becomes worthwhile. The Globe and Mail declared that he, “might be the fastest player on skates since (Montreal Canadien great) Yvan Cournoyer or when Sergei Makarov was the class of international tournaments.” During the playoffs, Don Cherry, Hockey Night in Canada’s answer to Archie Bunker declared Bure a “flea” and “weasel.”
After his first game as a Canuck — a home game against the Winnipeg Jets on November 15th of last year — Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun wrote: “If Winnipeg are the Jets, then what do you call Pavel Bure? How about the Rocket? He is the fastest Soviet creation since Sputnik.” The name, The Russian Rocket, stuck.
Bure began playing hockey at age six and he was born — or at least raised — to be a competitive athlete. His father, Vladimir Bure, was on the USSR’s national swim team for 12 years and won four Olympic medals competing in three Olympics games (Mexico in 1968, Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976). “My dad took me to the rink near the swimming pool and I become hockey player,” says Bure. “He was my coach from six years old and I work out with him almost every summer. He give me lots of help.”
Bure signed with the Canucks last fall for 2.7 million dollar for three years. The contract also included a bonus of $50,000 for being a nominee for any NHL award — a bonus he collected on when he was nominated for (and won) the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
His response to winning the award: “I was very happy and lots of guys give me lots of help.” He thinks opposing teams might treat him differently because of the attention from the award, but doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospect.
One guy who gave him plenty of help last year — both on and off the ice — was Igor Larionov. Bure’s reluctant to guess whether he’ll miss Larionov on the ice and as for who will become the Russian Rocket’s new centre, he replies: “Ask Pat Quinn about it.” Quinn won’t be telling until after the preseason games are through, but the position appears to be Petr Nedved’s to lose.
After finishing with the Playoffs this summer, when the Canucks were eliminated by Edmonton in the conference finals, Bure didn’t spend much time on skates — he went back to Russia for a couple of months.
“I miss home,” says Bure. “It’s my country over there. I visited lots of friends, lots of people.”
And how was the return trip after a year in North America? “It was okay. If you’ve got money you can buy whatever you want, lots of food. If you’ve got a nice job over there and you work hard you can buy whatever you want.”
So does he ever think he’ll return for good: “Too far to think about,” says Bure. But it certainly sounds like a possibility. “It’s still my country, Russia. I was born there, I grew up there, I love this country.”
While in Russia he didn’t skate, but he did work out. He likes to keep in shape by weight lifting, jogging, cycling and playing tennis.
Before joining the Canucks, Bure declared that he wanted to score 50 goals each season. Despite joining the team two months into the season, he scored 34 goals, the record for a Canuck rookie.
Although 50 goals certainly seems within reach, Bure isn’t prepared to make any predictions this year. “I said my dream is to score fifty goals,” Bure told TV Week. “I didn’t say I will score 50 goals. I can say again it’s my dream to score fifty goals (this season) but I can’t say how many goals I will have.”
His long-distance marriage to a California model he met two years ago at the Goodwill games has broken up, but Bure didn’t wish to discuss it other than to say, “I’m okay.” His best buddy on the team is Gina Odjick. The match-up doesn’t seem to make much sense to people who think of Odjick as the Canucks designated hitter (and brawler) but as a trilingual native Indian, Odjick likely has enough experience as an outsider to appreciate some of the difficulties Bure was facing coming to a new country and barely knowing any of the language (although he’s now seems fairly comfortable in English). Says Bure: “I can’t say why you become friends with somebody else.” But when Odjick came by to visit and the two started clowning around it was clear that their pals — and in training camp some of Bure’s skills seem to be rubbing off as a trimmed down Odjick was looking like more like a goal scorer than a goon.
So what’s Bure looking forward to in the upcoming season: “You never know what’s going to happen,” he says softly. “Hopefully we’ll play very well and try to get Stanley Cup.”
And what are Canuck fans looking forward to? That’s easy — Pavel Bure.