When Pavel Bure sat down in the stands beside me, my brain vanished as if he’d snapped it away with his lightning fast wrist shot. This was training camp, 1992, just after he won the Calder Cup for Rookie of the Year, becoming the first Canuck ever to win an NHL Award. I’d been interviewing people for newspapers and magazines since I was 16. I’d talked to politicians, movie stars and celebs of all stripes, but when the Russian Rocket said hello in his thick accent I immediately transformed from adult professional writer into a star-struck teenaged girl who’d found herself face-to-face with the rock star on her locker door.
I’m not sure I actually said, “ohmygawdyou’repavelbure,” but that’s how I remember the first words out of my mouth. I had about 10 minutes of Bure’s time to ask questions. I spent most of it fishing for words, because all I really wanted to do was ask for his autograph.
I’d been a Canucks fan for as long as I could remember being on the planet. I remember being at the game against Winnipeg the previous season when Bure made his debut — although according to Pat Quinn, the Canucks boss who drafted the most exciting player in team history, almost as many people remember being at that game as remember being at Woodstock. But I still have a vivid memory of him blasting off across the ice and almost scoring. It was love at first shot. I remember him astonishing everyone in the arena, even though he didn’t score. I remember it being the most exciting game I’d ever seen.
Now here I was interviewing him. Every time I managed to untie my tongue long enough to ask a question, Bure blocked me with a one or two word answer. Or I’d ask a question and he’d act like he couldn’t understand what I was saying. At the end of 10 minutes I had nowhere near enough quotes to string together my story — although I did get his autograph for, um, a friend. But at least I didn’t have to be too embarrassed. After all, he barely spoke English.
Then, as soon as our interview was over, Gino Odjick came over to grab Bure and the two started chatting. Fluently. Bure spotted me watching him talk to Odjick, flashed me a grin, and I realized I’d been played like one of his pucks.
This would be the Pavel who launched a thousand heartbroken calls to hockey hotlines. This was the Pavel who wasn’t just indifferent to our passions, but laughed at them. This was the Pavel who always had one skate out the door. This was the Pavel who was going to ask to be traded — over and over . . . . This was the Pavel Canucks fans hated. This was Pavel off the ice.
As I sat in the stands humiliated, wondering how I was going to file 1000 words, Bure stepped back on the ice and gift-wrapped my lead.
“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.”
And once again I loved Pavel with all my heart.
From the moment Bure became a Canuck, fans could get their money’s worth in a single shift. This guy wasn’t just faster than anyone else we’d ever seen, he invented moves. This was the Pavel Canucks fan loved. This was Pavel on the ice.
A few years after my meeting with Pavel I interviewed his dad. Papa Vladimir Bure was a swimmer who collected silver and bronze medals for Russia, repeatedly finishing just behind some American named Spitz. Yeah, he was the other guy in the pool during the reign of the greatest swimmer in a generation.
When Pavel was a kid — five or six — he wanted to play hockey. I can’t remember if it was dad or son who told me this — I’m pretty sure it was dad — but the story was that Pavel could barely skate when he joined a team where all the kids were older. He was picked last and Vlad the dad declared that no Bure could play any sport he wasn’t great at. Either Pavel was the top player on the team by the end of the season or his hockey playing days were over. At six.
I get how this might not make someone the world’s most lovable personality.
As the third most effective scorer in NHL history, the Russian Rocket landing in the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday is long overdue. But the debate du jour in Vancouver is whether the Canucks should hold a ceremony to retire the number of a player who kept demanding to leave. And even though the Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis was Bure’s agent, it’s not a lock the Rocket would show up to a ceremony in Vancouver. If he does, I can’t help thinking that almost any fan who saw him play, who remembers that rookie year, and who runs into him before or after the ceremony, will take one look, recall him speeding down the ice and sputter, “ohmygawdyou’repavelbure!”