My dad, being the standup man he is, took me to a department store that same day; I can still remember the thunderous crash of the catalogue being opened and after a few pages were flipped, new NHL-branded slush pants were in sight.
All I had to do was choose a pair.
That was precisely the moment the Vancouver Canucks first made my heart skip a beat.
I never played hockey growing up and while I was a fan of the sport (we played more street hockey than should have been legal), I never really had a team to call my own. I grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, –Las Vegas of the prairies – so the Winnipeg Jets were the closest NHL team. I liked them, don’t get me wrong, Teemu Selanne was the God of all Gods to my friends, but for some reason, I never truly got on board.
As I scanned the logos of every Canadian NHL team deciding which team’s pants to get, Vancouver’s ‘Flying Skate’ jumped of the page at me. What was this perfect blend of yellow, orange and black intertwined within a skate on a diagonal slant with ‘CANUCKS’ worked into the blade?
This was no waffle iron.
This was no plate of spaghetti.
This was suddenly my everything.
I gathered as much information on the Canucks as possible (and as much swag as possible, as you can see from my wicked hat above) and was hooked. I moved into obsessed when my dad surprised my brother and I with tickets to see the Canucks play the Jets in Winnipeg that March. Although I now had a team, I didn’t have a favourite player yet. Trevor Linden seemed like the natural, logical choice, but Kirk McLean was the goalie and who doesn’t love anyone brave/crazy enough to stand in front of pucks flying at them.
Then, just as the Canucks logo had leaped out of the catalogue, Pavel Bure raced into my life.
The Russian Rocket lit Jets goalie Tim Cheveldae up for not one, not two, but three goals in an 8-4 Canucks win with my brother and I on the edge of our seats all game.
Vancouver finished seventh in the Western Conference that season before, well, you know, falling a goal short of capturing the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
I cried when they lost in Game 7, but looking back, I am where I am professionally today because the Canucks lost. Had they won, I likely would have cheered for bit and jumped ship because all my friends would have suddenly been Vancouver fans.
Swaying with the crowd has never been my style.
I remember my dad telling me the following year that although I had never played hockey, I could still work for the Canucks someday. I thought he was bonkers and went about my business of growing up and cheering for Bure along the way.
I cringed when he was traded to Florida and winced when New York came calling, yet I never lost my deep appreciation for his raw talent. Every time I picked up a street hockey stick, I was Bure. I perfected the incredible stick-to-skate-to-stick deke he embarrassed a Boston Bruins goalie with at top speed, and even learned a few words of Russian.
It’s healthy to have heroes; I just took it a step further. Bure posters lined my walls, an impressive Bure-only hockey card collection was formed and a black Bure t-shirt (pictured above) was specially delivered from Vancouver, a now 19-year-old shirt, filled with holes, that I can still squeeze into right after a workout during non-holiday months.
Ignoring dares from friends and family, I will not be wearing my ancient Bure shirt this weekend when I travel to Toronto with Joey Kenward and Rory McGarry to cover Bure’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
This will be the first time I meet my childhood idol and I wouldn’t describe myself as nervous, it’s more of a jittery thing I’ve got going on.
We’ve got a laundry list of things we want to get for coverage this weekend, but above all else, I want to thank Bure for electrifying me and Canucks fans the world over for all those years, and make sure he understands what he still means to this city.
I’ve never asked for an autograph from someone I’ve interview before, a list that includes almost every NHLer for the past five years and some elite NFL, MLB and NBA players. If things are going well with Bure during our interview, I will, however, break my streak of professionalism and get him to sign the poster I had tacked on my wall growing up.
It’s not for me, it’s for 10-year-old Derek.
He’s going to be thrilled.