As my long-time readers are aware, I am a Pavel Bure fan. I had advocated for his inclusion in the HHOF for years, and finally, this past November, it came to pass. (as I'm sure you recall. Everyone I know probably remembers, because I was giddy as a schoolgirl for days before and after. You can never forget your first (hockey) love. And Pavel was mine.)
Now he's getting the same treatment from the Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted him.
And you can read it here .
Even though Pavel left the Canucks on slightly uneasy terms, his years there were good ones. I honestly think he just needed a change. From everything I remember reading at the time, he was just tired of the small-town vibe of Vancouver, having his every move noticed and criticized and needed a break from all that. (Do remember that he is from Moscow, and he is a very private person. And those were the days before social media. He'd probably be a wreck/criticized half to death in today's cutthroat world.)
Also, when he parted ways with Vancouver, in a trade to Florida along with Bret Hedican, the two of them were the last vestiges of the 1994 Cup team, aka my first hockey team. So when they left, I went with them.
There will always be a place in my heart for the Canucks (again with the first love), and I greatly enjoy the current incarnation of them (see this post for a refresher), but at the time I needed to move on.
Enter the Florida Panthers. A sad-sack franchise for many years-aside from the random Cup-run of 1996- they couldn't ever quite get it together. The never had a really strong core and struggled for years to find an identity to call their own. I think they hoped that by getting Pavel Bure they could build it around him. But, while I adore Pavel, and his playing skills cannot be overstated, he is not a Leader, in the "capital-L Leader" sense of the word. He isn't the guy to carry his team, it's not his style. Not to say that he's a selfish player, because I don't believe that, but he's not in the mold of a Steve Yzerman or a Trevor Linden or even Mark Messier. He is more of a behind-the-scenes guy, let his work on the ice speak for itself. I think this is a) why he was never the captain of an NHL team* he shared Captain duties with Paul Laus in 2001-02, but was never just the C* and b) part of why it took him so long to get to the HHOF. But I digress. Bure may have been a good piece of the puzzle, but even with Ray Whitney and a few other talented players, they Panthers didn't really have enough skill to make a run for it, and he was not enough to carry the team on his own.
When Pavel was traded to the Panthers, it was time to get myself a Bure jersey. I had wanted one since the beginning, but it wasn't something that happened. My first hockey jersey was a black Canucks jersey that I got for my 14th birthday. My parents had to go to Cincinnati to find it (in August, no less) but they managed. A Bure one would have been virtually impossible at that point. But by 1999, the internet was a real thing and I had access to all sorts of hockey catalogues and whatnot, so I was ready. I asked for it for Christmas, a red Florida Panthers jersey with his name on it. And I got it. Ironically, they put a C on it instead of an A *he was only an Alternate Captain* but my mom fixed it for me. I LOVED that jersey, I wore it all the time. I was finally able to represent for my main man. But I never got to wear it to a game, as the last time I saw him play was in November 2000, but I didn't get the sweater til January of 2001. (I did wear it to the HHOF game though, so all is well.)
I still want a Bure Canucks jersey. I actually have found it on e-bay. The one I want is white, with the 1994 Cup Finals patches on it. I saw someone wearing one in Buffalo at the game I went to a few years ago and it made me so jealous. One day I'll get one for the collection. One day..
Moving on- Pavel had several good years in Florida. I still remember the day I learned he had been traded. I was happy (because he hadn't been playing that season) but a little sad to be leaving my Canucks behind. However, Pavel adjusted quickly, scoring 13 goals in 11 games before injuring his knee (again) and missing the rest of the season. It was a sign of things to come, as Bure had 58 goals (and 94 pts, missing the Art Ross trophy by 2 points to Jagr that year) in 99-2000, and 59 goals ( 92 points) the following season. The Panthers made the playoffs in 2001, losing in 4 games in the first round, and that was the last Bure saw of the playoffs, and the Panthers last appearance for 10 years. (Again, a sign of things to come?)
The following year Pavel was joined by his brother Valeri, and it was fun to see the Bure brothers together. But it was a rough year for Pavel, as he was hampered by injuries again (this time a concussion) and only played 68 games. He did manage 68 points but only 34 goals and was not up to his usual speed. Also, during this season, the UNTHINKABLE happened. He was traded to the Rangers. It still makes me hurl just thinking about it. The Rangers are the ENEMY, the "grossbadguys". They ruined my first hockey season and broke my heart. I can NEVER, NEVER like the Rangers. This will not change. I may have grown to respect and perhaps even like a former player or two, but I can NEVER cheer for the team. And now my first (and only, at the time) hockeylove had been traded to the WORST.TEAM.POSSIBLE.
I didn't know what to think. Of course I still loved Pavel and I wanted him to do well, but I wanted his team to lose. That's a bad combination. But it didn't really matter, because the next season was his last. He only played 39 games- but I got to watch a few- the only consolation to him playing for the Rangers was the fact that their games were more televised than the Canucks or Panthers had been. And while he managed 39 goals, he was struggling more and more with knee injuries.
It was one of the great tragedies in sports that Pavel Bure only played for 11 seasons. He was forced to retire due to injuries (not the first player to go through this, but arguably one of the most talented) and with it went my dreams of ever seeing my favorite player win the Stanley Cup. I have since discovered other players to enjoy, and some of them have even won (Marty Brodeur, Steve Yzerman, Patrick Sharp) but none of them are Pavel.
So what is the bottom line of all this rambling? It's that Pavel Bure will always be a Canuck to me, even though I own his Florida Panthers jersey. His time with the Panthers was fun (and we won't talk about that other team anymore), but he began with Vancouver and that's how I first met him and how and when I first learned and loved hockey.
It is fitting. It is good.
Now I just have to figure out when it is and find a way to get there!