It's been 10 years since Pavel Bure last laced up his skates in a NHL game. He didn't officially announce his retirement until 2005 and immediately found himself fully re-engaged in the game. But now that he's enjoying the game as a fan, first and foremost, the Russian Rocket's career is starting to come full circle.
An eventful past few months started in November when Bure was officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after six years of eligibility. It would be just the first major moment of recognition during the next few months for the dynamic player who scored 50 goals or more on five different occasions.
"To be in the Hall of Fame is obviously an honor. It's the biggest achievement a player can get as an individual," Bure told NHL.com "It's a huge honor to be there. Being next to guys like [Phil] Esposito, [Brett] Hull, [Wayne] Gretzky. It's great. I'm really proud."
More honors followed for Bure a few months later when, during an April 4 home game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks invited him to be the team's guest of honor. When he was shown on the arena scoreboard before the contest, the Canucks faithful gave a standing ovation to the player who started his NHL career in Vancouver in 1991-92.
"I always liked the fans there. They always support me and were cheering for me for so many years," said Bure, who returned to Vancouver for the first time since being traded to the Florida Panthers following a contentious contract holdout in 1998. "Some people acted like I had a problem. Yeah, I had problems with management, never with the fans. It's totally different. People understand that. We had so many great years together with the fans. It was great to be back."
That night was quickly followed by strong speculation that the Canucks might retire Bure's number, which would make him just the fourth Vancouver player to receive the honor. Canucks owner Franceco Aquilini was even quoted as saying that Bure's eventual jersey retirement was in the team's future plans.
The special night ended in a meeting with Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, the top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft who grew up in Russia idolizing Bure. What resulted was a candid moment between the past and future of Russian hockey.
"He told me when he was 10 year old he took a picture with me and he still has the picture," Bure told NHL.com. "I thought it was so funny, because when I was 10, I took a picture with Gretzky. And Gretzky when he was probably 10 took a picture with Gordie Howe. I told him, 'One day someone will take a picture with you.'"
The events of the past few months have been exciting for Bure, who admits his involvement with the game right now is restricted mostly to being a spectator. Fortunately, there might never have been a better time to be a hockey fan, as evidence by an exciting Stanley Cup Final in which the Chicago Blackhawks topped the Boston Bruins in six games.
"I wasn't cheering for anyone, but it was a great game. Just fun to watch," Bure said. "I'm a fan, so I'm just enjoying. It's always nice to see two strong teams like Boston and Chicago. It was unpredictable. That's why I think people love the sport."
Bure will have more than a rooting interest in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Shortly after announcing his retirement, he served as general manager of the Russian national team that finished fourth at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. As a player, he also won silver at the 1998 games and bronze in 2002. So he can appreciate the awesome pressure the Russian team will be feeling in 2014 when they serve as host nation.
"It's the home team. I think Russia will have a really strong team, but so will Canada, U.S., Sweden, Finland. It's going to be really interesting," said Bure, who admits he has been in touch with the team's general manager, Alexei Kasatonov, and coach, Zinetula, Bilyaletdinov. "They have a really good coaching staff. They didn't do well during the last world championship. But it doesn't mean the coach doesn't know what to do. He's a really strong coach. He has lots of experience, he'll tell the guys what to do."
If Russia can capture Olympic Gold for the first time since 1992, Bure will likely be in attendance. Not just as a fan, but as a legend of Russian hockey. Regardless of how they finish, most of the players on that Russian national team will likely have been inspired by the speedy Muscovite who arrived in Vancouver as a 20-year-old in 1991 before taking the NHL by storm.
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