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Canucks to retire Pavel Bure's No. 10

Saturday, 11.02.2013 / 2:32 AM
Kevin Woodley  - NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks will raise Pavel Bure's No.10 jersey to the rafters in a special ceremony Saturday, finally retiring the number of the franchise's first true superstar.

But Bure's true legacy in Vancouver could be found on the bedroom wall of Canucks defenseman Jason Garrison some 20 years ago.

"Yeah, I actually had a Pavel Bure poster," Garrison, now 28, told NHL.com with a smile. "It was him in the warmups, taking a slap shot, with the big bend in the stick. I think every kid growing up wanted to be him in a ball hockey game. He is 'The Russian Rocket.' That's his legacy."

It's a legacy tainted in some eyes by the way Bure left the city where he started his NHL career after seven years, holding out to force a trade to the Florida Panthers well into the 1998-99 season. That may help explain why Bure's number is going into the Rogers Arena rafters after the No. 19 of Markus Naslund and No. 16 of Trevor Linden, despite the fact both finished their careers years after Bure's final NHL season with the New York Rangers in 2002-03.

More than a decade later, Bure joins them, bringing with him a Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1992 and consecutive 60-goal seasons in 1992-92 and 1992-94. In 2012, Bure also became the only Canucks player elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"Like everyone here in Vancouver there were moments when you just marveled at how exciting he was and what an incredible player he was," said Mike Gillis, who was Bure's agent before becoming Canucks president and general manager long after Bure retired.

Bure finished his career with 437 goals and 779 points in 702 games. He scored 254 of those goals with the Canucks, but in Vancouver he will be remember as much for the way he scored as for how many.

Blessed with unmatched speed and the ability to shoot in stride, Bure brought fans out of their seats every time he touched the puck.

"Can you imagine being the defenseman? If he had half a step on you, you were done," said Stan Smyl, the former captain whose No. 12 is the other jersey hanging in the Rogers Arena rafters. "The things he did at high speed I could only do in my dreams. If I did it in practice I would be face first on the ice. Pavel could do that."

Defenseman Dave Babych was happy Bure was on his team.

"It didn't matter if you had like half a degree wrong angle on the guy, you weren't going to get him," Babych said. "Pavel had another gear to him, so even if he was already going fast, he had that little giddy-up that he could take off again. We've had some unbelievable players come through Vancouver but Pavel was, bar none, a superstar."

Bure showed why on the first shift of his first game on Nov. 5, 1991, gathering the puck in his own end and skating through the Winnipeg Jets before just missing his first NHL goal. He didn't score that first goal until his fourth game, but few fans in Vancouver recall that day.

Most talk instead about that first game, and if all were to be believed, half the city was in attendance.

"That first shift there was 16,200-some there to watch it at the Pacific Coliseum, but about 100,000 claim they were there now," retired broadcaster Jim Robson, who is also a Hall of Fame member, said while introducing Bure to the media on Friday. "His first shift was spectacular and everybody said 'We finally have a superstar,' and he proved that in his time with the Vancouver Canucks."

Bure, now 42, isn't focused on how that time ended.

"I'm just happy what happens in the journey of my life," Bure said. "I had maybe the best time in my career here in Vancouver."

There were too many highlight-reel goals to list, but Bure's personal highlights included a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers in 1994, which was sparked by his double-overtime Game 7 winner against the Calgary Flames in the first round.

"I can't just choose one," Bure said. "First game, first goal, '94 Stanley cup run, first time to score 50 goals, which by the way didn't count. I scored a goal and they waved it off so I had to score another one."

Scoring - and Bure's passion for it - is what the fans remember. His fellow players do as well.

"Loved to score goals," Washington Capitals star and fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin said recently of Bure. "He was a big player when I was growing up. Lots of young guys, he was their idol and he's good. He's still probably one of the best player in Russia history."

Naslund flew in from Sweden to be a part of the retirement ceremony before Saturday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs - even though he only played two full seasons with Bure in Vancouver.

"Even though I was in Pittsburgh the two years he scored 60, I still followed him as one of the guys that was my idols being in the League," Naslund said. "Pavel was one I tried to watch as much as I could. I knew he was huge, and then when you get here and see how many people wear his jersey and the attention he was getting from the fans and the media, you realized that he is a superstar."

Being the Canucks first true superstar wasn't easy for a shy, private 20-year-old who was not yet comfortable speaking English. A fishbowl existence in Vancouver may have played a role in his departure, but the warm ovation Bure received when he was honored while watching a Canucks game in April provided a hint at the atmosphere to come Saturday.

"It's probably the biggest honor you can get," Bure said.

It an honor that will add to the memories of Bure with the Canucks, but for some the lasting image always be on a bedroom wall.

"To me Pavel Bure just stands for excitement," said Canucks center Mike Santorelli, who like Garrison grew up in the Vancouver suburbs and had posters of Bure. "So exciting to watch and so dynamic."

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