However it would not be in the pool but on frozen water where Bure would earn his stripes. As an adolescent, he quickly became one of the best players in the Soviet Union and after joining the Red Army, NHL scouts would start to take notice.
After an extraordinary process to draft the young Russian, who was not yet under contract, met with team officials in San Jose. Then General Manager Pat Quinn asked Assistant Coach Stan Smyl to sit with Bure in the press box to help familiarize him with the team and provide information to the inquisitive player.
“[Pavel] asked me a lot of little questions about the NHL, travelling and playing wise,” said Stan Smyl of his first meeting with Bure. “We went over a lot of questions that guys have concerns with, like coming to a new place to live and playing in a new league. He was very confident about coming to play in the NHL and was commenting on the players on the ice as we talked. It was a really interesting and fun two and a half hours getting to know him.”
Shortly after that meeting, Bure finalized his contract and joined the Canucks in-season in Vancouver. There was great anticipation and advertisement revolving around his first on-ice arrival with the team.
“The first practice he came to wasn’t at the Coliseum,” remembers Smyl. “There was a concert going on so we practiced at the Britannia ice surface just off of Commercial Drive. The arena was jammed. It was the first time I had seen it completely full. You could just feel the excitement for this practice and every time he touched the puck. It was amazing how fast and high tempo that practice was with Pavel in the line-up for just his first practice with the team.”
His first NHL game was played on November 5th, 1991, in Vancouver.
“He stick handled the length of the ice in a high speed rush against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pacific Coliseum,” recalls legendary former Canucks broadcaster Jim Robson of his very first shift in the National Hockey League. “16,123 fans were there, but years later twice that many claimed to be in attendance. The collective reaction from all who saw that amazing showing of speed and skill was ‘we finally have a Super Star’.”
Though displaying finesse and speed, Bure would be kept off the scoresheet for his first two NHL games.
He collected his first NHL point, an assist, on a Cliff Ronning goal on November 10th, 1991, versus the New York Islanders. The next game, on November 12 against Los Angeles, Bure notched two goals, beginning a storied goal-scoring career in the NHL. The young Russian continued to have great success and in the final game of the season against the Flames, he col- lected his 34th goal of the year to tie the club record for most points scored by a Rookie, which was set by Ivan Hlinka during the 1981.82 season.
His accomplishments on the ice would be recognized by the League with the Calder Memorial Trophy, marking the first time a Canuck player had won an NHL individual award.
The following year, Bure built on the successes of his rookie season. One of the most notable games that season was on February 12, 1993, in Buffalo where Pavel Bure would face off against former Russian junior star linemate Alexander Mogilny for the first time since the pair had joined NHL clubs.
“They both had spectacular games in a 3-1 Canuck win,” recalls Robson. “Neither scored that night but, as usual, Pavel rose to the occasion. He assisted on all three Canuck goals and was chosen as the game’s first star.”
Another stand-out memory for Robson came later that season as Pavel left his mark on the Canucks history books.
“A short while later, in another game against Buffalo and goalie Grant Fuhr, Pavel became the first Canuck to score 50 goals in a season,” said Robson. “It was on March 1st, 1993, in a neutral site game in Hamilton with over 17,000 fans filling Copps Coliseum. Pavel scored goals two and three in Vancouver’s 5-2 win.”
And while 50 was already an impressive feat, Bure was far from slowing down. On April 9th, in a physical divi- sional game against the Calgary Flames, the Russian Rocket would record his 60th goal of the season and finished the season with 110 points (60-50-110). That point total stood as the franchise record for most points in a season until 2009.10, when Henrik Sedin surpassed the mark with 112 points; the season goal total has yet to be surpassed by a Canuck player.
“As a player and an athlete, you go out in practice and a lot of times you’re out there fooling around and trying new things in slow motion,” said Smyl. “Watching Pavel, he could do all of these moves at high speeds all the time. It was very impressive. Basically every five games or so he would have a new move.”
His diligent work in practice would continue to be fruitful for the young Russian. In the 1993.94 campaign, Bure scored 60 goals for the second con- secutive season.
“He had a passion for scoring,” says Smyl. “It wasn’t just flash...he would go into the dirty traffic areas as well. He wasn’t afraid to work hard and do those sorts of things.”
As unthinkable as it may have seemed at the time, the 60 goals would be far from the most memorable part of the 1993.94 season. The Canucks had earned the seventh playoff berth in the West and would go on to play the Calgary Flames in the first round.
“I suppose his biggest goal was the double overtime breakaway winner in Game Seven in Calgary in the first round of the 1994 playoffs,” said Robson when asked what some of his favourite memories of watching Bure play were. “It was a close-in deke to slip the puck past Mike Vernon just inside the post.”
It propelled the Canucks forward on a historic run, facing off against the Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and then the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final.
“He provided many highlights in that great playoff run that weren’t limited to goals,” said Robson, who supplied the dynamic play-by-play for listeners back in Vancouver. “He had some key passes in New York to start the play that produced the Greg Adams overtime winner in Game One of the Final and a rink wide pass to set up a key Dave Babych goal to break a 3-3 tie in Game Five of that series.”
“In the games with higher stakes, you got the oppor- tunity to see just how competitive he could be,” added Smyl of Bure’s penchant for success.
The Canucks fell one victory short of winning the Stanley Cup in 1994 but have left lasting memories that Canucks fans relive to this day.
Bure concluded his career with the Canucks following the 1997.98 season. Over the span of his Vancouver tenure, he collected 478 points (254-224-478) in 428 games, now ranking seventh all-time on the fran- chise’s scoring list.
In a blockbuster trade the next year, Bure took his talents to south beach. He played a total of four seasons with the Florida Panthers, including two 50+ goal seasons. He concluded his NHL career after the 2002.03 season, following two years with the New York Rangers.
“Despite his time with the Panthers and the New York Rangers, Pavel Bure will always be remembered as a Vancouver Canuck,” added Robson. “The team’s first Super Star.”