(RC Note - This is a five part series - yes, I lost a bet! I'll keep it gentlemanly, as there is no real need to take cheap shots at the Canucks - what whould it give?)
Back in this blogs infancy, on July 28 of last year, I posted on some moments in Canuck history, both good and not so good. You can revisit it here.
My favorite Canuck of all time, far and away, is Pavel Bure. I enjoyed watching him so much, I never once cringed when he was called the Russian "Rocket". The best compliment I could ever give Bure, was that along with Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur mostly, he was one of the few players who could pull me from my seat just by touching the puck. There was an unparalleled excitement and anticipation in his game.
Legends Of Hockey writer, Joe Pelletier, a Canucks fan and author, has this to say about Bure on his site. Check it out sometime, Pelletier feature 18 Canucks greats in his writings.
Pavel Bure was the most electrifying hockey player as the world approached the 21st century. While the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, Paul Kariya and Eric Lindros are all extremely great hockey players, Bure had the rare ability to pull the fans out of their seats every time he touches the puck.
No one loves to score as much as Bure. Even in practice he loves to see the twine bulge. In that sense Bure ranks as one of the greatest pure goal scorers in hockey history. Names like Mike Bossy and Rocket Richard are fair comparisons.
Bure is nicknamed the Russian Rocket because of his incredible speed. While some players can match his foot speed, what makes Bure so special is he can carry the puck at top speed. Most players just push the puck in front of them as they break down the wing; Bure is capable of deking through a top defenseman without losing steam. Sometimes he even dropped the puck into his feet and kick it by the blueliner, and then accelerate by him to get in alone. He was truly a magnificent player to watch, and you often watched with your jaw hanging open.
Though small by NHL standards, Bure was built like a rock, with great strength and balance. He had legs like tree trunks that powered his scary speed. He had an arsenal of goal scoring tricks. His wrist shot was lethal, as was his much rarer slap shot. But most of all he loved to deke.
Pavel also had a nasty streak him and would not take anything from bigger players. Just ask Shane Churla. Churla, a noted roughian, was giving Pavel a hard time in one particular game. Pavel took only so much before he caught Churla with a blind hit and a vicious elbow. Pavel played the game with reckless abandon, particularly if the he sensed an opportunity to crash to the net and score a goal. He was seemingly fearless even after injuries began taking their toll on his body.
One area that his coaches would have liked Bure to do more of was use his linemates better. Too often Bure tried to go through the entire opposition by himself. Sometimes he actually did it, and every time it was an event. But Bure was a good passer, underrated even, and the team would be better off if Bure would have been a little less selfish at times. He was also knocked for his defensive play.
"Pasha" was drafted in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, 113th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks. It would turn out to be a controversial pick at that time because no 18 year old could be drafted after the third round unless he had played more than ten games in 2 seasons in a major league. The NHL Media Guide stated that Pavel had only played 5 games the year before, but Mike Penny (the Canucks' Chief Scout) discovered proof in the form of score sheets which had recorded that Pavel had played 11 games in that previous year.
At the age of 16, Pavel joined the Red Army to play with the best hockey players in Russia at that time, including the popular KLM line (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov). It was with that team also that he met Sergei Federov and Alexander Mogilny. Together, they formed one of the best lines in the world. They were being groomed to carry on the tradition of the KLM line in the old Soviet regime, prior to the fall of communism and the opening of NHL gates to former Soviet hockey players.
Pavel played in the World Junior Championships for three years where he scored 27 goals and 12 assists for a total of 39 points in just 21 games. In 1989 and 1990 he won the gold medal, and in 1991 just before joining the Canucks, he won the silver medal. In 1989 he was named the Soviet League Rookie of the Year.
In fact, as a kid the thought of a Russian in the NHL was so remote that Bure never dreamed of North American glory. He dreamed of playing with the mighty Soviet national team, like his idols Boris Mikhailov and Valeri Kharlamov.
"I never dreamed about the NHL. Growing up I didn’t hear too many things about it. North America was like a different planet. Kinda like something you read about but a place you never thought you’d go. It was my dream to be a part of the national team and win an Olympic medal because my father went to three Games and didn’t win a gold. My biggest dream was for me and my brother to go to the Olympics and win a gold for the family."
By the early 1990s Soviet players were being allowed to join the NHL, though the Russian federation tried their best to keep young stars like Bure. Tempted by the large contracts of professional hockey, Bure became disenchanted with his contract from the CSKA. Along with his father, an Olympic swimmer and younger brother and future NHLer Valeri he slipped off to North America to start his new life with the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks.
Pavel came to Vancouver 15 games into the 1991-92 season. With his explosive rushes, his first game remains one of the most talked about nights in Vancouver hockey history. Bure instantly became the NHL's most electrifying player, as he would score 34 times while adding 26 helpers en route to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the best rookie.
The following season the Russian Rocket lifted off to a new stratosphere, scoring 60 goals while adding 50 assists and being named a NHL First Team All Star.
In 1993-94 he scored 60 goals for the second-straight year, making him the eighth player in NHL history to accomplish that feat (the other players to do that were Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Mario Lemieux). This time he led the league with his 60 markers. During the unforgettable Stanley Cup run of the 1994 playoffs, Pavel led the team in scoring with 31 points. He also led the entire league in playoff goals with 16, none bigger than the game 7 overtime goal against the Calgary Flames to advance the Canucks to the second round.
The following season was a difficult season for the entire NHL and most of its players as the season was shortened due to a labour dispute. Pavel only managed 20 goals and 43 points in 44 games. Yet it was nowhere as near as difficult as the next two seasons.
1995-96 was supposed to be the great rejoining of perhaps the league's most dangerous duo - Pavel Bure and newly acquired Alexander Mogilny. Unfortunately only 15 games into the season Pavel Bure's ACL ligament was severely damaged while playing against the Chicago Blackhawks when he was taken down behind the net by opponent Steve Smith. Pavel's season was over, and a career long history of knee troubles had begun.
The 1996-97 season saw Pavel return for 63 games but only muster 23 goals and 55 points. During the season people wondered if the Russian Rocket would ever return to his former glory. Following the conclusion of the disappointing season it became known that Pavel had played much of the schedule with a severe case of whiplash, and perhaps should have sat out part of that season as well.
Any doubts about Bure's ability to return to his style of explosive speed, all out recklessness and goal scoring clinics were answered in the 1997-98 season, as Bure teamed up with Mark Messier to score 51 times while tying for 3rd over all in league scoring.
Bure, who had notified the Canucks he wished to be traded as early as the 1995-96 season, finally demanded a trade by sitting out the start of the 1998-99 season. Bure sat out despite being scheduled to make $8 million US citing reasons such as not enough privacy in a small, Canadian market, a variety of disputes with management and a desire to play with a winning team.
The trade finally came on January 17, 1999 as Brian Burke trade him to the Florida Panthers. Bure, Brett Hedican, Brad Ference and a 3rd round pick went to the Sunshine State in exchange for Ed Jovanovski, Dave Gagner, Mike Brown, Kevin Weekes and a 1st round pick.
Just for a little Habs - Canucks related fun, there is a list below of 25 players who have appeared in both jerseys since Vancouver joined the NHL in 1970. If I have missed any, please let me know. I scoured the NHL Official Book and Record Guide's retired and active player sections to compile the list.
I have two trivia questions. First, you will see 5 players who have asteriks attached to their names. What differentiates these players from the other 20. The second question is, which player amongst this group only played for both teams and no other NHL franchises in their career. The first correct winning answer gets to ask me to do any ramdom post of their choice - within reason, of course.