Countdown to Launch: The Russian Rocket’s Top 10 Canucks Moments.

The 20th anniversary of Pavel Bure’s first game as a Canuck was this past Saturday. Trevor Linden may be the greatest Canuck of all time, but Pavel was the best. At his peak, he made you want to catch every second of Canucks games (sure would be nice to have him on the team nowadays for those Minnesota divisional games…). Throughout his career, he was the fastest and most powerful skater in the league. He had Sidney Crosby’s strength and Marian Gaborik’s acceleration (and then some), combined with Alex Ovechkin’s hunger for scoring goals.

Like many Canuck fans that grew up with the team in the 1990’s, Pavel was the main reason why I was originally drawn to the sport. It didn’t take any knowledge of strategies or rules to recognize that he was something special. Bure was one of the truly elite players who could make plays at top speed that most players struggled with standing still. He seemed to gain an extra few gears once he had the puck, and was a physical player when he wanted to be. His defensive awareness was better than he was given credit for, as well. Bure has kept a low profile in recent years, but he did sit down with Puck Daddy earlier this year to share his thoughts on the current status of the game.

In my brief biography for this blogging contest, I mentioned how my one mission in life is to see Bure in the Hockey Hall of Fame. While the statement was a tad hyperbolic, the fact remains that he needs to be in there. What better way to celebrate the anniversary than with a collection of Bure’s best during his time with the Canucks?

10. The holdout controversy at the end of Pavel’s tenure here unfortunately changed how he was perceived among many Vancouverites. He refused to play for numerous reasons (contract disagreement and unfair media treatment, among other things), eventually forcing a trade to Florida. For an extremely comprehensive read on the issue (as well as his entire career), I’d highly recommend the book by Kerry Banks titled The Riddle of the Russian Rocket. The book takes no stance, but presents a lot of information that was never shared with the public before.

Interestingly, Bure’s agent while he was holding out was none other than Mike Gillis.

9. While Bure didn’t technically wear a Canucks sweater at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, he was still a part of the organization at the time. His five-goal outburst against Finland will go down as one of the most dominant single-game performances in the history of international hockey. Bure managed to have a hat trick of breakaway goals alone. I wonder how many times that has been done, before or since? Look at how fast he goes from a dead stop to full speed for the second goal. No wonder his poor knees were unable to hold up….

He ended up leading Russia to a Silver Medal and finished with a tournament-leading nine goals.

8. On April 1st, 2009, a rumoured return to hockey for Pavel started circulating on the TEAM 1040. Many people chose to ignore the fact that it was April Fools’ Day. The icing on the cake was Bure making an appearance on the BMac and Rintoul show to confirm his return (the pair tracked Pavel down at his home in Miami). Kudos to Pavel for stepping up to create one of the better April Fools’ jokes in recent memory.

I haven’t been able to track the audio down, but Pavel dead-panned his way through the entire interview. One of the more memorable lines: “I would be able to help the team in the shootout, at least.”

7. The Bure-Mogilny connection never really took off, but the excitement and hype surrounding it in the summer of 1995 was something to remember. The Canucks gave up fan favourite Mike Peca in the trade, but they had managed to acquire Bure’s former junior teammate and line mate, and a former 76- goal scorer. Unfortunately Bure’s knee injuries interrupted the following seasons, but Mogilny was quite productive on some terrible Vancouver teams.

6. In 1993-94, Bure scored 60 goals for the second consecutive season. Other NHL players with back-to- back 60+ goal seasons include Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Mario Lemieux. Some decent company there, especially for a non-Hall of Famer….

5. Bure brought excitement to Vancouver starting from the very first time he suited up at the Pacific Coliseum. For those in attendance, November 5th 1991 will be a day that won’t soon be forgotten. He didn’t find the score sheet, but Bure was all over the ice. Hockey in Vancouver was quickly taken over by Pavelmania:

4. Bure’s performance in game five of the second round against the Dallas Stars in 1994 doesn’t always get mentioned when discussing his best performances, but his two goals were the difference in the 4-2 victory, and ensured Vancouver’s first trip back to the Conference Final since 1982. In that game, Bure also had a team-leading nine shots on goal. He was well on his way to building his reputation as a big game player.

3. The biggest elbow in the history of hockey was delivered by Bure on Dallas defenseman Shane Churla during the 1994 playoffs (the mother of all elbows, according to Don Cherry). How long he would be suspended for if the hit occurred nowadays? Bure had taken a ton of abuse from the Dallas players, especially on the shift before. Churla and Derian Hatcher had both gone out of their way to pummel him to the ice, and Bure exacted revenge the best way he knew how – with a devastating cheap shot.

2. Pave’s creativity to try new things was always on display. The famous stick-to-skate move performed against the Bruins was in the preseason (so it doesn’t get full marks if would have if he pulled it off in a regular season game), but it was the first time the move had been successfully pulled off in the NHL. Bure even had the guts to pull this move off (go to the 5:46 mark) in the Conference Final against Toronto.

1. “Jeff Brown, a long pass to Pavel Bure….”Was there really any other option? Capping one of the greatest comebacks in Canucks history, Bure broke through the Calgary defense and left Mike Vernon searching for his jock. Jim Robson’s call on the goal was incredible. To quote Tom Larscheid, “This is the greatest moment in Vancouver Canucks history.”

Pavel Bure was Vancouver’s first true sports icon, and let’s hope the Hockey Hall of Fame properly recognizes him for what he was: one of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the league.