“Right from the day he first stepped on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks, he wowed the city.” –Pat Quinn
“What Pavel brought at the time, the team never had before. And that was a superstar that was young and I wouldn’t say the word overly confident but he wasn’t afraid to say ‘Look I’m going to score 50 goals’, and he went out and did it.” –Cliff Ronning
“Some of the things that Pavel did at high speed, I couldn’t do it walking through it sometimes. Players are always fooling around before practice or during practice to try different things. But when Pavel did this, it was all at a high speed and he did it in games.” –Stan Smyl
“He was scary with the puck, I mean he could do stuff that made other players look like they were in another league. It would be boys playing with men sometimes”. –Arthur Griffiths
“Pavel was the type of player, and there’s not a lot of guys that can do that, but literally bring people out of their seats and incredibly explosive. He just made things happen when you didn’t think anything could happen.” –Trevor Linden
“He’s the most talented hockey player I’ve ever played with in my life and that I’ve ever seen period.” –Greg Adams
Discussions involving Pavel Bure’s talent always bring an incredible amount of praise. Songs were written after his arrival, fans were so ecstatic that 2000 of them observed his first practice with the Vancouver Canucks on Nov.3, 1991 and nobody could seem to get enough of the Russian Rocket.
All of this for a teenager shorter than six feet who would become the city’s first sporting icon. Bure was a rare caliber: someone who could break games wide open, score goals by his lonesome and do it all at speeds that may never be seen again.
The general unison for a long time regarding NHL players was the bigger, the better. Bure was never the biggest athlete on the ice, but always better. He is easily considered the greatest draft steal in Vancouver Canucks history, going 113th overall in 1989.
Before he ever laced up his skates in North America, obstacles stood in the way for him to overcome. After Alexander Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres in 1989 and Sergei Federov for the Detroit Red Wings the following year, Bure flew to Los Angles in September of 1991 with his father Vladimir and brother Valeri.
First, teams weren’t sure if Bure was free to be drafted later than the third round of 1989 because his eligibility was intended to be in 1990. Mike Penny, Vancouver’s head scout, found that he had played in additional international and exhibition matches, allowing him to be chosen late.
Complaints were filed by other teams, plus the Central Red Army still had him under contract. When the game sheets were shown representing his participation in the additional matches and $250, 000 was paid to the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation, Pavel Bure was officially a Vancouver Canuck.
His debut came two days after his opening practice and he showed the world what he had to offer on the first shift. Although there were no points, Bure created a number of flashy rushes from one end of the rink to the other. Cliff Ronning remembers the first shift with great detail.
“Even people on the bench, our team, everyone stood up. I’ve never seen a guy skate that fast, that confident and go end-to-end. I don’t know if you’ll ever see it again how fast he skated. I don’t know how fast he was going. I don’t think anyone’s ever skated that fast. I don’t think he ever skated that fast himself afterwards. That was insane, that one shift.”
Pavel recorded 34 goals and 60 points in just 65 games to capture the 1992 Calder Memorial Trophy. Back-to-back seasons of 60 goals would follow with an All-Star Game appearance in both instances. Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy are the only two players in history who scored more goals in their first three professional years.
Win, lose or draw, it didn’t matter for Vancouver Canucks followers because Bure alone was worth the price of admission. In the 1994 postseason, he led the team to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final with 16 goals and 15 assists in 24 games.
Along the way, Bure scored perhaps the most memorable goal in Canucks history in round one facing Calgary. On a breakaway, he faked backhand before going to the forehand with lightning quickness to send Mike Vernon and the Flames out in the second overtime of Game Seven.
Unfortunately for the Moscow native, his efforts weren’t enough to earn Vancouver a title as they fell short to the New York Rangers.
Due to a shortened season in 1994/1995, he played 44 games with Vancouver, tallying 43 points. Changing his number from 10 to 96 the following year, Bure experienced more alterations than he would have preferred.
Knee injuries were beginning to see their way into his condition. He played 78 games over the course of two seasons. Competing while injured in 1997 with a neck problem, the Russian Rocket managed 55 points in 63 games regardless.
Bure decided to return to No.10 on his jersey after two injury-riddled campaigns with 96 on his back. Superstitious or not, it turned out to a wise decision as Pavel notched 51 goals and 90 points in what would be his last year with the Canucks organization.
Demanding to leave for personal reasons, he didn’t report to the club and continued waiting as the new season was well under way. In mid-January of 1999, Bure was traded to the Florida Panthers in a deal involving seven players and two draft picks.
He went on to score 13 goals in 11 games but was sidelined with two simultaneous knee issues preventing him from competing any further. A healthy Bure returned in 1999/2000 to dominate with 58 goals, earning his first Rocket Richard Trophy (at the time of him first being the league’s scoring leader with Vancouver, the title was not yet introduced).
The 58 goals and 94 points both established franchise records with the Panthers. Improving his goal total next year to 59, he captured his second consecutive Rocket Richard honor and amazingly netted 29.5 percent of Florida’s goals throughout the season.
Groin problems and a concussion stalled Bure in 2001/2002, holding him to 56 games. Joining the Rangers in March, a goal-per game was how he ended the year (12 goals, eight assists in 12 games).
Bure’s remaining time in the league would conclude the following season after 39 games. A tear to the meniscus in his left knee was repaired but he failed a medical in 2004, ultimately bringing about retirement on November 1, 2005.
Three gold, three silvers and two bronze medals are on his international credentials for Russia.
Finally, after years of being stiffed by the Hockey Hall of Fame, he was selected to be inducted along with Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Adam Oates this past June. And this weekend, Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini intends to meet with Bure and ensure that his jersey will be retired in the rafters of Rogers Arena.
Better late than never, for both.
Regretfully, Bure was unable to end his career according to his wants. Of course, he was 34-years-old when the day came to call it quits but the gas tank was long ways from becoming empty.
The new-look NHL was made for players like Bure. Defensemen were once granted the permission to grab onto forwards. Two-line passes weren’t in effect either. But those rules didn’t make it easier to contain him.
One can just imagine what he could have accomplished in today’s wide open game. Speed kills. Nobody had more speed than Pavel Bure.
Despite being hampered by injuries, Bure made a lasting mark in the league as a born goal-poacher; one of the greatest in history.
But words cannot paint the entire picture. In honor of the Russian Rocket’s career, there may not be a more appropriate way to conclude than with a highlight reel.