VANCOUVER -- Pavel Bure lifted a generation of hockey fans out of their seats. On Saturday, the Vancouver Canucks returned the favor, lifting his retired No.10 jersey to the rafters at Rogers Arena.
Bure joined Stan Smyl and former teammates Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund as the only Canucks with their numbers retired.
"I felt like I had to play again," Bure, now 42, said after the ceremony, adding the significance didn't hit home until Wayne Gretzky phoned him earlier in the day. "I was in the middle of the ice and 20,000 people were cheering for me. … It felt like I was playing again."
BURE'S NO. 10 RAISED TO THE RAFTERS
Pavel Bure, his wife Alina and mother Tatiana watch as his No. 10 is retired by the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)
Chants of "Bure! Bure!" from the sellout crowd greeted Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis as he introduced his former client.
"The moment you became a Canuck you changed the landscape of hockey in Vancouver," said Gillis, who was Bure's agent before taking the Canucks GM job. "You electrified fans and brought a level of excitement that is rare in any city or any sport. You created a new generation of fans. Everyone was captivated by 'The Russian Rocket.'"
The ceremony included a long video tribute with numerous highlight-reel goals. There were plenty from which to choose. Bure scored 254 of his 437 career goals during his first seven seasons with the Canucks, and many were on long dashes out of his own end and through or around the opposition. It ended appropriately with the double-overtime breakaway winner to lift the Canucks past the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, sparking a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
"One of my great memories," Bure said of the 1994 run.
It was for Canucks fans, too, though Bure's first game in a Vancouver uniform isn't far behind. It came after much hype on Nov. 5, 1991, and Bure brought the fans out of their seats on his first shift, gathering the puck in his own end and skating through the Winnipeg Jets before just missing his first NHL goal.
Bure didn't score until his fourth game, but most just remember the debut and the incredible speed he displayed that night, foreshadowing things to come from the Canucks' first true superstar.
"It's hard to believe it's been almost 22 years since I played my first NHL game here in Vancouver," Bure said. "I will never forget that."
Neither will the fans, but more now seem willing to forget Bure's departure seven years after that magical debut, when he held out to force a trade. It tarnished his legacy in Vancouver for some, but his election into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 -- the only Canucks player to be so honored -- made retiring his No.10 jersey an easier decision.
"It's probably the biggest honor you can get," Bure said when asked if he thought this day might not come. "I'm really pleased."
Traded to the Florida Panthers well into the 1998-99 season, Bure's career was shortened by knee injuries, finishing in 2003 after two injury-plagued seasons with the New York Rangers. He ended with 779 points in 702 games, but will be remember as much for the way he scored - and the passion he showed after - 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.
That's what the crowd remembered prior to the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, when numerous former teammates and managers were in Rogers Arena to celebrate with Bure.
"It brings back lots of great memories," Bure said. "With the fans cheering and everybody happy, it was like you scored a goal."
The Vancouver Canucks wore No. 10 Pavel Bure jerseys for warmups prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)
The list of former teammates included Naslund, who flew in from Sweden, fellow Russian Igor Larionov, who was in Vancouver the first season, and former coach and general manager Pat Quinn.
"Pat Quinn," Bure said, sparking another ovation. "You are a great man. I was so young first time I met you. You helped me become great player, but you also taught me to become a man."
After thanking his family and Canucks owners past and present, Bure also singled out Larionov and Geoff Courtnall on the sidelines.
"You guys taught me how to be professional," he said.
Bure also singled out his brother and fellow ex-NHL forward, Valeri Bure, but saved his biggest thanks for Gino Odjick, the longtime Canucks tough guy who quickly became, and remains, his best friend in Vancouver, an unlikely pairing that remains strong.
"One friendship I am most proud of is with this man," Bure said, pointing to Odjick as chants of "Gino! Gino!" broke out around him. "I don't know anyone with a bigger heart than you. We had great times over the years. You are a legend and true friend."
Lastly, Bure thanked the fans, ironic since it was the fishbowl of playing in Vancouver that drove him away from the Canucks.
"We play for you. Thanks for all the cheers, all the support over the years. I will never forget those years we spent together," Bure told the crowd. "Nobody deserves Stanley Cup more than you, and I know it's going to happen soon. Thank you from bottom of my heart."