Although Valeri Bure is going to be wearing a Kings uniform this season for the first time in his career, he is certainly no stranger to the city of Los Angeles. This is a homecoming of sorts for the 31-year-old native of Moscow.
"I talked to my family, and we felt that L.A. would be our first choice," says Bure, who as a free agent signed a one-year contract with the Kings on August 12. "There were a few teams that called, but I told my agent that I really wanted to play in L.A. Luckily, things worked out."
Valeri's desire to play in Southern California grew from his first experiences in the United States. As a 17-year-old, he, his older brother Pavel and his father Vladimir took advantage of the newly opened borders in their homeland and came to America prior to the 1991-92 season. Drafted in 1989 by Vancouver, Pavel was ready to begin a NHL career that would see him earn the Calder Trophy, two Maurice Richard Trophies and an invite to the All-Star Game seven times. But before the hockey campaign got underway, the family began the adjustment to their new way of life in Los Angeles.
"We weren't here long at first," Valeri says about his family's move in the summer of 1991. "We spent maybe two, two-and-a-half months in L.A., and then I went to play junior hockey [in Spokane, Wash.]. But every summer over the next five years, we would come back and live in Marina del Rey, so I was pretty much spending my summers in L.A."
With most of his life having been shackled by the strong arm of a communist government, assuming that Bure suffered from culture shock upon his arrival would be understandable. Few locales seem to be more opposite in lifestyle than Moscow under the Soviet Union's reign and sunny Los Angeles. Not so, says Bure.
"Moscow is a huge city," he says. "It would be like New York or L.A., so for me, it was normal. Actually, the adjustment for me was going from Moscow to Spokane. It was very small, and there wasn't as much to do. I was kind of in a tough situation for the first four or five months, then I got used to it. I learned the language, and it was great."
Of course, Bure's initial exposure to Los Angeles was somewhat sheltered. The primary focus of his and Pavel's days those first two months consisted of staying in shape and preparing for the season, which meant hitting the gym in both the morning and evening. In between, he spent time resting, watching TV and trying to pick up the language.
"My dad had a lot to do with it," Bure says about his old schedule. "He pushed us really hard [in Russia] and it was no different here. We didn't really get a chance to see (the city) except on Saturday and Sunday. We would drive to the beach and do a lot of stuff there. Other than that, it was back to the grind two times a day."
Well-known in his home country, Bure's father Vladimir, who is now a fitness consultant for the New Jersey Devils, was a former member of the Soviet Union's National Swimming Team. He took home one Silver and two Bronze medals at the 1972 Olympics, and one Bronze at the 1968 Games while also competing in 1976. Not only did Vladimir pass down a tremendous athletic talent to his two sons, but he was also instrumental in laying the foundation for the brothers' later success through his intense conditioning programs--workouts that allowed little time for fun in the sun for a teenaged Valeri.
That would begin to change soon enough for the youngest Bure. During the summer of 1994, and just prior to joining the Montreal Canadiens' minor league club in Fredericton, Valeri was introduced to a young actress by the name of Candace Cameron. She played D.J. Tanner on the hit sitcom "Full House," one of the same television shows the Bure brothers watched regularly in their attempts to learn English. Hitting it off immediately, the couple continued dating around her production schedule and his hockey seasons before finally marrying in the summer of 1996.
While Valeri had grown up the son of a famous father and received his share of attention as a professional hockey player, he admits things got a little crazier when he first began dating the well-known actress.
"At the time, when I did meet her, I did get to meet a lot of people that you watch on TV. That was fun," he says. "But to tell you the truth, I'm not big on [the spotlight]. I'd rather stay at home and play with the kids, and my wife is the same way. She's not really into all that stuff. We're really easy going."
Although Candace and their three children have lived with Bure throughout his NHL stops in Montreal, Calgary, Florida, St. Louis and Dallas, the family has always maintained a home in California, first in Palisades and more recently in Malibu. Signing with the Kings ensures an even more stable environment for the five.
"I wouldn't do very good without my family," says Bure, who was an All-Star with the Panthers in 2000. "I have a hard time when we're on the road for a week. I can't imagine what it would be like for a month or two months at a time. There's no way I can do without them for so long. That's why it works out well here."
After signing on the dotted line with the Kings, the Bure family left for Florida the next day to begin tying up loose ends on the other side of the continent. They were then planning to hurry back to Los Angeles in early September with hopes of finding a new home and getting settled in before training camp starts up on September 14.
Now for Bure, the excitement of being in Los Angeles is equaled only by his expectations for a 2005-06 season playing under a new set of rules that are designed to open the game.
"Everybody is saying, 'We'll believe it when we see it,'" says Bure about the proposed changes, "but if they do stick to it, I will have a huge benefit. A player like me, who skates and creates? Wow, that would be fun. This is a good opportunity for me and the team to go and win some games."