'Russian Rocket' Pavel Bure was my hero
Writer’s hockey education began watching Bure work his magic
Pavel Bure’s rigorous preparation included skating with two parachutes strapped to his back for resistance.
Pavel Bure ruined me as a hockey fan.
I was seven years old when Bure made his debut with the Vancouver Canucks. I was nine when he scored the game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 against the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 1994 playoffs and led the team in scoring en route to the Stanley Cup Final. And I was 14 when he was traded to the Florida Panthers.
Those were the primer years of my development as a hockey fan, the time when passions, loyalties, and expectations are defined for the rest of a person’s life. In those prime years, I watched Bure skate faster than seemed humanly possible, while controlling the puck with perfect precision and shooting with pinpoint accuracy. How could anyone else compare?
Canucks fans have been spoiled in recent generations. My generation had Bure, ensuring that the numerous speedsters with lesser hands that came after him would forever be judged for not being him. Then came Naslund, whose sublime wrist shot soured fans on the lesser snipers that followed.
Now, Canucks fans have the Sedins, whose style of hockey is entirely unique and impossible to duplicate. Young fans who are growing up with the Sedins as the offensive stars of the Canucks are bound to be disappointed when future top line forwards are unable to complete a simple backhand, cross-ice, tape-to-tape saucer pass over the sticks of four opposing players while being cross-checked to the ice by a fifth.
Bure was a once-in-a-generation talent, whose ability to stickhandle at top speed was unreal and whose desire to score goals was unmatched. Knowing that hockey can be played like that, with that speed, finesse, and passion, how can you not be disappointed when you see it played any other way?
Growing up, my friends and I loved the Canucks. We idolized Trevor Linden, loved Jyrki Lumme, and thought the world of Kirk McLean. My favourite player was Cliff Ronning, mainly because I was the shortest kid in my school and took inspiration from the pint-sized scorer. But Bure was the Canucks in the 90s. To us, to the kids who loved nothing more than to see goals being scored, Bure was the team. He was the reason you watched the games.
Any kid who was lucky enough to get Bure in a pack of hockey cards crowed about it on the playground. We were jealous of the lucky few whose parents bought them official Bure jerseys.
In NHL video games, where speed was everything, you would always get the puck to Bure when you were playing as the Canucks. Any moment that Gino Odjick or Dave Babych had the puck was excruciating, but as soon as Bure had the puck, a world of possibilities was opened.
Seeing Bure leave the Canucks was devastating. I knew very little of what was happening behind the scenes at the time, or even the parts of it that were being hashed out in public. During the 1994 playoff run, I was too busy explaining that my brother’s old Flying-V jersey “was so” a Canucks jersey to my classmates to worry about the rumours that Bure had apparently refused to play in the playoffs without a new contract. The disputes between Bure and Canucks management over the years never reached our ears; all we knew in the end was that Bure wasn’t playing and was demanding a trade.
Linden was already gone. McLean had faltered and been traded. My beloved Cliff Ronning had signed with the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 and Jyrki Lumme followed his lead two seasons later. Now Bure was on his way out. The Canucks that my friends and I had grown up with were no more.
Bure ruined me as a hockey fan, but seeing his tenure with the Canucks also made me a more mature hockey fan.
He made me realize how fleeting our time is with the players that come through the NHL and our favourite teams.
At nine years old, I thought 1994 would happen every year, that Bure would go on flying and racking up goals for another decade or more with the Canucks. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that he would get just one more shot at the playoffs in Vancouver.
So now I appreciate what we have while it’s here. There will never be another Bure, but there will also never be another Daniel or Henrik Sedin.
There will never be another Alex Burrows. There will never be another Roberto Luongo. Other players might come along with some superficial resemblance, but it won’t be the same.
Bure belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame and I’m happy to see him getting his due. In my opinion, he also deserves to see his number raised in Rogers Arena, but I’m just a kid who didn’t know what he had until it was gone.
Daniel Wagner writes about hockey at vancouversun.com/passittobulis
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