News from 1991


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Pavel Bure update situation
by Alan Chim
November 1, 1991

Canucks reached an tentative agreement with Ron Salcer, player agent of Pavel Bure, just before the court trial. Shortly after the court trial, Pavel Bure was signed to a 4 year contract worth a reported 3.4 million. Then, the Canucks quickly negotiated a transfer payment of $250,000 to the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation. Bure pitched in $50,000 of his own to speed up his process. Apparently, the quick negotiation of Pavel Bure's release was due to the fact that the Soviets were scared they would lose Bure to the Canucks for no payment. Pat Quinn, Canucks GM said that the Soviets did deserve some payment for developing Bure.

The next step in this concluding Pavel Bure saga is to apply for a work permit/visa with the Canadian immigration. This process has been started, and will continue. Pat Quinn is hoping that this process will not take too long. After this, Quinn says Bure will be tested physically and medically to see where he's at. Quinn also said that Bure will be treated no differently than any other player and he will have to work hard to earn a position. Pat Quinn expressed some concern about Bure's defensive play as most European wingers usually have tough times adjusting to the NHL (ie. Mogilny)

The Canucks players generally have no ill feeling towards Bure. Most have the attitude that if Bure can help the team, he will be welcome. Igor Larionov will definitely be a key in helping the Canucks get through to Bure (ie. Hrdina --> Jagr).

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Pavel Bure: Vancouver's Superstar
by Austin Murphy - - Sports Illustrated
1991

GLEN RINGDAL'S JOB SUDDENLY GOT MUCH EASIER ON OCT. 31, 1991. That was the day the Vancouver Canucks signed Pavel Bure. At long last Ringdal, the Canucks' marketing director, had someone to market.

Asked to name the players who preceded Bure (rhymes with HOO-ray) on Vancouver's list of stars, Ringdal answers tactfully. ''Harold Snepsts was very popular,'' he says, referring to the glowering, unibrowed defenseman who played 12 years for the Canucks. ''The fans went crazy when he scored goal.''

And? ''Stan Smyl was a crowd favorite.'' Smyl, a Canuck from 1978-79 to '90-91, was a bent-nosed forward from northern Alberta beloved for his work ethic and grit. ''And of course Trevor is very popular.'' Trevor Linden, a more skilled version of Smyl, is Vancouver's current captain.

Finally, the tact gives way to candor. ''I guess there were no real stars before Pavel, who holds the audience captive every time the puck is on his stick,'' says Ringdal. ''The fans liked Harold. What you have with Pavel is more of an idolization, like you get with certain musical artists. Like you got with Elvis.''

Hyperbole? Two thousand people attended Bure's first practice in Vancouver, on Nov. 3, 1991. The freebie 8- by 10-inch glossies of Bure that the Canucks once distributed before home games now sell for up to $25 on the memorabilia market. There was such a crush for the pictures, says Ringdal, that ''the people handing them out were getting mauled.''

Vancouverites could hardly be blamed for overreacting. They were superstar virgins. Citizens of this coniferous jewel of a city, which has a major league team only in hockey, had never seen Bure's like in a Canuck uniform: a game breaker, a dangerous, attacking player capable of scoring from anywhere without help from anyone. ''He can take the puck from behind our net, carry it down the ice and score, '' says Linden. ''That's rare.''

That's Bure. With 24 goals at the end of last week, he was on a pace to score 81 this season. In their 22-year, Stanley Cup-less history, the Canucks have never had a 50-goal scorer. Until Bure won last year's Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, no Vancouver player had ever won an NHL postseason award. Linden, the Canucks' former glamourpuss, now gets letters like this one:

Dear Trevor, You've always been my favorite Canuck, so could you get me Pavel' s autograph?

''Humbling,'' says Linden. Overwhelming, admits Bure, who has hired someone to deal with the sacks of fan mail. The Russian Rocket, as Bure has been christened locally, is seen all over town. There he is, decked out to resemble James Dean, in a fashion spread in Western Living magazine, which gushed, ''We think ((Dean's)) Little Boy Lost good looks have been reincarnated in Pavel Bure.'' And there he is in Canuck ads in bus shelters and on billboards: Where Linden's photo once appeared, there is now a picture of Bure, a rocket on his back, with a caption reading, WE HAVE LIFTOFF.

But Bure has a confession to make in his fast improving English: ''In Russia, I was not Rocket. I was just regular guy.''

Back then he lived at home in a Moscow suburb with his brother and parents, drove a Lada and played for the Central Red Army team. His future was bright: Along with Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, Bure was being groomed by Red Army coach Viktor Tikhonov to replace the legendary K-L-M line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. Glasnost, however, laid waste to Tikhonov's plans. Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres in 1989; Fedorov signed with the Detroit Red Wings the next year. In August 1991, on the eve of the Canada Cup tournament, Bure was told to sign a document that would have bound him to the Red Army club for another three years.

He refused, and the team left for Canada without him.

One month later Bure, his father, Vladimir, and his hockey-playing brother, Valeri (box, page 57), were on a flight to Los Angeles. Pavel's mother, Tanya, followed them to North America two months later.

Perhaps the only people more surprised than the Red Army brass by the dramatic flight of the Bures were the Canucks, who had selected Pavel in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL draft. They hadn't expected to see him for another year or two, and his arrival in the U.S. caught them off-guard.

Ron Salcer, a Los Angeles-based sports agent who had been matched up with the Bures by Serge Levin, a Russian emigre living in L.A., took over. He put the Bures up in an apartment and began the tortuous process of getting Pavel signed with the Canucks. To sign Bure the Canucks had to grapple with both the NHL (the league wouldn't allow Vancouver to negotiate with Bure until the Canucks got permission to do so from the Red Army team) and the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation. It took two months.

It would have been easy during this time for the Bures to sit around all day watching television or ogling bikinis at the beach. (Possibly the first English slang word to enter Valeri's vocabulary was chick.) As in his homeland, Vladimir couldn't control the bureaucrats. What he could control was his sons' physical condition. He worked their butts off.

He always has. Vladimir, 41, commands his sons' respect. At meals, before helping themselves, the Bure boys pass food to their father. Vladimir was a superb athlete in his own right. As a freestyler on the Soviet swim team, he won four Olympic medals, twice finishing behind Mark Spitz in the 1972 Games. After retiring from swimming in 1979, Vladimir became a coach for the Red Army club team and later for the national swim team. In 1977 he took six-year-old Pavel to tryouts for the Red Army hockey club. He had high hopes. ''Every father think his son the best,'' says Vladimir. ''At his first practice, Pavel was the worst.'' For Vladimir this was unacceptable. He had a talk with his son. If Pavel did not show marked improvement in two months, he would withdraw him from the program.

''You do something -- bus driver, journalist -- you try to be best,'' says Vladimir. Pavel began to go to bed early on nights before practices. Then, unlike that first workout when Pavel sat during drills that didn't interest him, he skated the entire practice. ''I didn't make him run and lift weights three hours a day,'' says Vladimir. ''But I make sure he had focus.'' After a year Pavel was the best.

''He is coach,'' says Pavel. ''He understand training very well.' ' In Los Angeles the Bures were on the beach every morning for a run. The rest of the day consisted of weight training, more running and then skating drills whenever they could secure ice time at the Culver City Ice Arena. Vladimir skated his sons hard. Their practice goalie was Shawn Barfield (the brothers quickly nicknamed her Sean Burke after the NHL goalie with a similar moniker) who for a while was a practice goalie for the coed club team at Cal State- Northridge. Was she any good? ''Better than shooting at empty net,'' says Valeri. There's gratitude for you. In the evening they played tennis or soccer.

Salcer, who is chummy with actor Tony Danza, took the Bures to a taping of Who's the Boss? Says Valeri, ''Was great -- some great chicks.'' For the most part, however, it was a tense time for the Bures. Mike Beamish, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, visited them in Los Angeles in their third week there. He arrived on the same day a photographer from Upper Deck trading cards showed up. Pavel was cranky and uncooperative, and Vladimir slapped his face. ''Vladimir looked like he regretted it immediately,'' says Beamish. ''Pavel was humiliated. For a minute he was near tears.''

In some matters Vladimir was not so hands-on. Pavel had been in the country only three weeks when he was married in a civil ceremony to a mysterious * American fashion model -- in newspaper accounts her first name has been variously spelled Jimy, Jamie, Jimmy; no last name was ever given -- whom he had met in Seattle during the 1990 Goodwill Games. ''I tell him, 'It's your deal,' '' says Vladimir. ''I coach sport, not love.''

Pavel and what's-her-name were divorced over the summer. Pavel has denied that the marriage was one of convenience, but it had all the earmarks of a green-card special, a life preserver that would let Bure stay in the U.S. even if he didn't sign with the Canucks. His wife never lived with Pavel in Vancouver, and he will not discuss his nine-month marriage. ''I do not like to talk about,'' he says. ''Personal life personal.''

He found it more difficult to wed himself to the Canucks. While the Vancouver front office dickered with the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation, the 1991-92 season started. Finally, in desperation, Pavel ponied up $50,000, from the signing bonus he was to receive, to help the Canucks buy out his contract. His deal with Vancouver was worth $2.7 million over four years.

Though he would go on to score 34 goals in 65 games last season, he did not score in his first game, a 2-2 tie with the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 5, 1991, in Vancouver. He did, however, go coast-to-coast on three dazzling rushes, sucking the breath out of 16,123 Canuck fans. ''He was unbelievable,'' says Brian Burke, who was Vancouver's assistant general manager at the time and is now the general manager of the Hartford Whalers. From that moment on, says Burke, ''Pavel was doomed to a life of celebrity.''

The instant star got a guarded reception from his new teammates. Before signing, Bure had been quoted in a local paper as saying he expected to score 50 goals and make $1 million in his first season. The remark rang a bit selfish. ''We worried he might be a kid with a bit of a big head,'' says alternate captain Ryan Walter. ''But there was nothing to worry about. The fact that he reported in such great physical condition said a lot about his attitude.''

Bure also has worked hard at learning English and making friends with North American-born players. He has become particularly tight with Vancouver left wing Gino Odjick. At first glance their friendship appears to be a case of opposites attracting: Bure is one of the NHL's most-feared scorers, Odjick one of its most-feared pugilists. But Odjick, a full-blooded Algonquin, grew up on an Indian reservation in Quebec. He knows how it feels to be an outsider.

When asked by a reporter if he was drawn to Bure because he empathized with the Russian's plight as a stranger striving for acceptance in a strange land, Odjick thinks for a moment and then says, ''What?''

The reporter tries a different tack. As part of a wave of skilled foreign players coming into the NHL, wasn't Bure actually a threat to him? Replied Odjick, ''No foreigner's going to get my job.''

Antiforeigner sentiments in the league are fueled by Don Cherry, the outrageous, xenophobic Hockey Night in Canada commentator and former NHL coach. It's part of Cherry's shtick to run down players who fail to measure up to his standards of hockey manliness. Those players happen to include many of the Swedes, Finns, Czechs and Russians in the league. Bure was not exempt. In a first-round playoff game against the Jets last season, a television camera caught Bure kicking the skates out from under Keith Tkachuk. ''You'd never catch a Canadian kid doing that,'' said Cherry, incorrectly. ''Bure, ya little weasel!''

Vancouverites rallied behind Bure. Apologies from Cherry were demanded. The backlash was a measure of how fond Canuck fans had become of their Russian star in only six months. For several weeks WEASEL POWER T-shirts sold briskly.

Bure has some work to do before he rates mention with the league' s best player. Just ask Vladimir. ''This ((Mario)) Lemieux, he knows what going to happen a second before it happens! He is born to be a hockey player. Pavel is not near this guy,'' says Vladimir. His solution? ''Pavel needs work, work, work.''

Specifically, he needs to improve his defense. Also, Canuck general manager and coach Pat Quinn must frequently remind Bure not to try to do everything by himself. Early this season, says Quinn, ''Pavel was becoming too individual in his play.'' Part of the problem was his center. When Igor Larionov left Vancouver at the end of last season to play in Switzerland, Bure's regular center was gone. He didn't click with either of Larionov's replacements, Greg Adams or Petr Nedved. On Nov. 3, Quinn traded for 30-year-old Anatoli Semenov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Centered by his countryman, Bure has scored 13 goals in 13 games through Sunday.

Quinn was ebullient after Bure scored twice in Vancouver's 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 10. Bure's first goal was an uncanny individual effort. Carrying the puck in the circle to the left of the Sharks' net, Bure was repeatedly clobbered by San Jose's Brian Lawton, who finally knocked him to his knees. Somehow Bure retained control of the puck -- and regained his feet. One second and two blurred strides later he had covered the 20 feet to the crease and stuffed the puck past paralyzed goalie Brian Hayward.

''A lot of guys would've quit on that play,'' said Quinn after the game. ''We've had a lot of great -- well, great's not the right word -- highly talented Europeans come to our game. A lot of them don't have the grit to fight through the hooking and bumping and holding, and battle for the puck. Well, this kid's got grit.''

Said a reporter, ''Someone should show that goal to Don Cherry.''

Someone should show that goal to Vladimir.

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Pavel Bure questions
by Alan Chim
November 3, 1991

I've received some questions on Pavel Bure, so I thought I'd post them here to avoid answering them twice. Anymore questions on Bure are welcome.

-What position does he play?
Pavel Bure can play either wing position. Most recently, he has played right wing. Pavel Bure shoots left BTW.

-How long before we will see him in a Canucks uniform?
I would guess within a week, depending on Pavel Bure's conditioning.

-Will the Canucks send him to Milwaukee for conditioning?
I seriously doubt it. Bure is a millionaire now, and the Canucks want to throw him in the line up ASAP to see what he can do. Another thing is if they send him to Milwaukee, he might get injured.

-When did the Canucks' management have the change of heart and decide to pay Bure so much?
Before this, the Canucks and the Griffiths family were considered very cheap by the fans. After opening their pockets to Geoff Courtnall, Trevor Linden, and most recently Bure, they've restored some of their integrity. I expect to see a ticket price rise next year. Another reason is because maybe the Canucks didn't want to lose this potential game breaker and had to call his price.

-If he plays left wing (which I think he does) what will the Canucks do with all of their left wingers?
They must have the best collection of left wingers in the league. As I stated before, Pavel Bure can also play right wing, and I think they'll put him on the right wing. It's been stated that he wants to play with fellow Russian, Igor Larionov.
The Canucks can certainly use Bure. Despite their amazing record, they have not been winning convincingly and haven't been scoring enough goals to be considered a true cup contender. The Griffith's have certainly loosened the purse strings this year, what with the big contracts for Courtnall, Linden, and now Bure.

- Are the Canucks expecting to make money this year?

-How has the attendance been this year? I assume it's been quite good, given the Canucks incredible start.
If it hasn't, then there is something wrong with the fans in Vancouver. Even in years when the Canucks haven't been playing well, attendance has been pretty good. This year even more so, because the Canucks are playing so well. I don't think they'll make much money this year, but you can expect to see ticket prices rise next year if the Canucks can ice a par .500 season.

-What are the line combinations looking like? Who will Bure play with?
Line combos have not been discussed yet, but I'll let you know who he plays with after the first game. As I stated before, there has been some talk on Bure playing with Larionov

-How's Nedved doing? (I don't mean point-wise, I get his stats.)
Petr Nedved has looked very strong on his skates, and looks like he will blossom into a good NHL player next year. He still needs to try and capitalize on his chances, and try to decide what he wants to do with the puck more quickly. This will be another learning year, but he'll have decent statistics this year.

-Will Gamble get a chance to play regularly, or will Quinn go with McLean the whole year?
As I stated in my weekly post, Gamble was sent down to Milwaukee with Bob Mason backing up McLean

-How do you think the Canucks will do this year?
It looks like they could break .500, but I'm still not convinced, although I believe that Bure could be enough to push them over the top. Seven games against San Jose also can't hurt their chances. However, the division is so good that the Canucks could have a winning season and still not make the playoffs. This seems unlikely, though. Things are looking good. I think the Canucks have a legitimate shot at the top 3 places in the Smythe division even without Bure. They're beginning to gel as a team and have been receiving point production from everyone, with Ronning Linden and Courtnall leading them. I just hope Bure does not upset the chemistry of the team like Krutov and Larionov did the first year they were here.

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Canucks make room for Bure
by Jim Jamieson - - Vancouver Province
November 5, 1991

Pavel Bure's debut has caused some ripples in the Vancouver Canucks' lineup.

Right wingers Jay Mazur and Andrew McBain got one-way tickets to the NHL club's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee Monday.

It was no surprise that NcBain, who was demoted to the minors midway through last season, was the odd man out. The 26-year-old scratched his way into the lineup, but hadn't dressed for the past eight games.

But Mazur, who distinguished himself last season on the checking line and as a penalty killer while adding 11-7-18 in 36 games, didn't have a good camp and essentially lost his checking line job to Gary Valk.

"When you've got a team like we have, it's tough to break into the lineup," said Mazur, who spent three seasons in the minors before finally getting his shot last year. "Like they say, it's hard to get here, but it's even harder to stay."

While McBain's contract guarantees him $245,00 US this year regardless of where he plays, Mazur signed a new two-way contract in the summer that means his base salary drops from $180,000 to $35,000 with the demotion.

"I don't really want to leave," said Mazur, who owns a North Vancouver house and whose wife, Kerrie, is expecting their second child in February. "But it's all part of the game."

Valk echoed his teammate's sentiments.

"Sure, it's upsetting to see a couple of buddies gone," said Valk, who was called up from Milwaukee one year ago Monday. "But ... Pavel's coming in. He's heckuva hockey player and he's going to help the team..."

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Green light for Bure
by Jim Jamieson - - Vancouver Province
November 5, 1991

Pavel will play.

The Vancouver Canucks have decided to end the suspense and dress young Soviet star Pavel Bure, whose signing last Thursday has created so much excitement and expectation around the team, tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

In his second practice with the NHL club Monday the 20-year old Bure skated on a line with centre Ryan Walter and left winger Gino Odjick. The 'Bure Effect' moved regular winger Robert Kron - one of the Canucks' better play makers in Sunday's 7-2 thrashing of the Edmonton Oilers - to the press box.

"Of course I'm nervous." said Bure through translator and advisor Serge Levin. "It should be a very difficult game for me. I will try to play my best, but I can't be sure."

Although he sparkled at practice, showing off his superb skating and puckhandling, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger said he's still struggling to attain a good fitness level. He hasn't played a game since Canada Cup exhibitions in Europe with the Soviet national team in August.

"Of course, I don't have good shape right now," said Bure, who astounded Canucks training staff by bench pressing 200 pounds 14 times in testing Saturday - equaling that of 6-foot-2, 215 pound defenceman Dave Babych. "I'm probably about 50 per cent (of top form)."

"He's very nervous," said Bure's onetime teammate on the Central Army club, Igor Larionov, who's now putting him up in his North Vancouver home. "I've tried to talk to him about the physical play. I think he'll be ready. Who knows, maybe he'll score on his first shift."

That the Canucks would start Bure with Walter's line was a bit of a surprise, but the veteran will be expected to be a steadying influence.

"Wally's really going to help him out,: said Valk. He's really good at talking to you out there. It's smart to put him out there with a guy with 13 years in the NHL and who can back him up in any situation."

Team captain Trevor Linden said there's no reason amongst the team that Bure's sudden inclusion in the lineup will cause the kind of disruption that resulted two years ago when highly touted Soviet duo of Larionov and Vladimir Krutov were handed jobs.

Coming off a season when they had the third-best defensive record in the NHL, the Canucks unconsciously let the defensive emphasis slip, assuming the Soviets would add instant offense. Larionov never found his offensive flair and Krutov was a bust and the Canucks never recovered, finishing out of the play-offs.

"We really lost our sense of roles." recalled Linden. "And in a lot of cases Igor was playing well, but Krutov was dragging him down ... didn't seem to want to be here. Bure's 20 years old and he's a different story. I've spoken more to (Bure) already than I did to Krutov in a year."

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Pavel Bure's first NHL game
November 5, 1991

The expectations awaiting the 16th game of the season were extraordinary. Scalpers were getting three times the original price of tickets. The Pacific Coliseum was sold out, 16,123 anxiously awaited what they hoped would be a sign of things to come. The game was not shown on television, which certainly helped the scalper's cause.

Rick Ley was the designated coach, as Mr. Quinn, who fought so hard to bring Pavel to Vancouver in the 1989 Entry Draft, was out of town on call. Everyone in the building had their eyes peeled for #10. Bure originally asked for #96, but Pat Quinn felt that high numbers took away from team unity. European hockey players often wore high numbers to glorify important dates. Bure wanted 96 to represent the month and day of his defection to North America: September 6, 1991.

Bure started the game playing RW with Trevor Linden and Greg Adams, but quickly switched to a line with Gino Odjick and Ryan Walter after a 30 second shift. Bure raised eyebrows for real for the first time in the second period. Crossing the Jets blueline, the puck slipped out of his control. Without slowing, he passed the puck back to his stick by kicking it, behind his back, and broke in on Rick Tabaracci. He tried to stuff it in on the pads of Tabaracci, but was unsuccessful and flew into the boards.

The Jets looked flat footed trying to contain Bure all night long. In frustration, grinding veteran Doug Evans nicked Pavel in the face with his lumber, only to receive a major penalty and a game misconduct. The Canucks would eventually tie the game 2-2 with the Jets. Rick Ley blamed the tie on the Canucks lack of focus, getting into the act of awe over Bure.

In a call in interview with Tom Larscheid on the Late Night Sports Grill, the longtime Canuck colour man who is beautiful to listen to, described Bure's first game as his single greatest non playoff Canuck memory. At the time, his comments were, "He literally lifted people out of their seats. I had never witnessed anything like that at the Coliseum."

The Vancouver Sun journalist Archie McDonald said, "Bure raised goosebumps so big you could scrape carrots on them." Barry MacDonald of Sports Page said, "It was the single most electrifying play I'd ever seen." And Pavel Bure himself had this to say: "It was very exciting. I will remember this day all my life. It was beautiful. Beautiful."

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Bure impressive in his NHL debut
by Tony Gallagher - - Vancouver Province
November 6, 1991

Hip, hip, Bure.

What else could you say, after last night's 2-2 tie between Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets at the Pacific Coliseum, the first NHL game for Pavel Bure.

While the point from the tie was probably nice for the Jets, the flashes of brilliance Bure showed the full house of 16, 123 were absolutely the talk of the evening, even though there was no bottom line from the young Soviet.

Although he isn't a left winger, premier Mike Harcourt could well have named him minister for speed and stick handling yesterday as his rushes brought standing ovations and tumultuous cheers from the faithful throng. And win or lose, the prospect of watching this fellow for the next 10 years would have to bring a smile even to the kisser of Don Cherry.

And though he didn't get on the scoreboard, he drew seven minutes in Jet penalties, and was stopped three times while in cold by Winnipeg goalie Rick Tabaracci.

After mocking the Jets defence by splitting it once and walking around another seemingly lead-footed defender at the end of a long shift, he was loyally introduced to the violence of the NHL. Doug Evans smacked him in the face with his stick, and took a five-minute major and a game misconduct, but the Canucks were unable to capitalize.

And it's as well he was outstanding for as it turns out the original figures on his contract were low. His agent Ron Selcer confirmed, the signing bonus is for $800,000 US, not $600,000 and fully $500,000 is paid this year. Further he has high bonuses for reasonable games played milestones and goals scored.

He appeared to be worth every penny last night in entertainment value alone, to say nothing of the 2,500 seats he sold all by himself. Suffice to say, those who saw Bure last night will be back.

He set up Ryan Walter cold in the first period as well, but the Canucks opened the scoring when Geoff Courtnall hammered a power play point shout through Tabaracci's legs four minutes into the game.

It was doughnuts until Troy Murray tapped in a goalmouth rebound to even the score at one at 6:49 of the second period, a session in which the teams combined for just 10 shots, including Bure's efforts.

The Soviet's ice time was accelerated by acting head coach Rick Ley when Jim Sandlak left the game with a minor injury. Bure had a chance to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead five minutes into the third period but the pass from Cliff Ronning hopped over his stick.

But the Jets struck again on the power play when Luciano Borsato tapped in a Fredrik Olausson point shot. That goal was equalized by Robert Dirk's first of the season with just six minutes remaining.

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Bure impressive in his NHL debut
by Iain MacIntyre - - The Vancouver Sun
November 6, 1991

If Winnipeg are the Jets, then what do you call Pavel Bure? How about the Rocket?

OK, so maybe some football player named Raghib calls himself that, but it fits Bure perfectly. He is the fastest Soviet creation since Sputnik.

Tuesday in his NHL debut, Bure brought the fans to their feet but couldn't bring the Jets to their knees as the Vancouver Canucks needed a late goal to tie the Jets 2-2.

Overtime was scoreless, as the Canucks failed to capitalize on a power play that began with 34 seconds left in regulation time.

Bure made two awesome, jaw-opening rushes on the second period and had another one in the third but came away pointless. Unless, of course, you consider he proved a point by showing he is indeed one of the fastest skaters in the world.

His play wasn't completely fruitless otherwise: the game was a sellout at 16, 123 as Bure began to pay off the $2.7 million contract he signed last Thursday.

Canuck Robert Dirk looked more like Robert Orr as he tied the game with 6:25 left in the third period. After Canuck Gino Odjick skated Troy Murray off the puck inside the Jets' blueline, Trevor Linden gathered it and passed cross-ice to Dirk, who deked goalie Rick Tabaracci.

A minute after Dirk's goal, Bure was sent in all alone on Cliff Ronning's pass, but his low shot was stopped by Tabaracci, who was superb all game.

He also foiled Bure twice on deke attempts in the second period after the 20-year-old had sped through the Winnipeg defence like a scalpel through soft butter.

Bure, who was cheered each time he jumped on the ice, started the game on the fourth line but was moved to Ronning's second unit after right wing Jim Sandlak left with an injury early in the second period.

The Winnipeg power play, which went into the game second in the NHL and was 2-for-4, gave the Jets a 2-1 lead at 6:05 of the third..

Luciano Borsato was left alone at the side of the Vancouver goal and tipped Phil Housley's point shot past Canuck goalie Kirk McLean.

If only the Vancouver power play had been so effective.

The Canucks spent 8:59 of the second period on the power play, most of it due to Bure, but was inept with the extra man.

After Bure's electrifying rushes, Doug Evans tried to slow down the Soviet by hitting him in the face with the blade of his stick.

Denis Morel was the only one to punish Evans - none of the Canucks on the ice saw the brutal high stick or chose to do anything about it - as the referee assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct assessed at 14:45

The Canucks managed only three shots during the disorganized power play.

Earlier, Bure drew a questionable tripping penalty by Randy Carlyle after again slicing through the Jet defence.

But the Canucks were equally feeble with that man advantage, which overlapped by one second another two-minute power play.

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A Dazzling debut
by Bob Dunn - -
November 6, 1991

It's the morning after the night before: Pavel Bure's first game. He is dressed smartly. Having moved into a new apartment with bare cupboards after the game, he is hungry so his employers, the Vancouver Canucks, serve bacon 'n eggs in the board room.

And yes, he is tired.

Considering the rapid pace of his first game with the Canucks, or the rapd chain of events that had him playing it, the fatigue could be physical, or it could be emotional.

"Everything," he says.

By no means is "everything" the only word Pavel Bure speaks in English. He understands well, frequently answering a question in Russian before it has been translated from English. On this day, drained, almost all his answers are in Russian.

At 20, he has lived English for only two months, since moving to California to marry Jamie, a model Bure met last year at the Goodwill Games in Seattle. But he has been learning English for years.

"I used to take a Russian-English dictionary," he says, through interpreter Beth Novokshonoff, "and pull out key words. Then when people talked in English, I would pick up two or three words and get the drift of the question. If I didn't recognize words, I was lost."

"Lost" is a word that has seldom applied to Bure when it comes to putting on the skates. For example, when he was a teenager, he liked to go back and play hockey in the courtyard near the apartment complex where the Bures lived. Most times, he and his friends played without skates. Pavel was the only boy in his building who'd had any training on skates, so in the interest of fun, his pals insisted they leave the skates at home.

In fact, it's likely the only time Bure was "lost" on skates was the first time he wore them.

"I stood on the ice holding the chair," he laughs. "I just stood there. I didn't skate."

His is a natural skill, polished by years of training in Moscow at the Central Red Army Club. But nobody teaches speed... at least not THAT speed. Always a strong skater, he started playing hockey at six and, within two years, was able to take the puck and outskate everybody at his level.

"There was one little fellow who started at four," Pavel recalls. "I would follow his moves, and learn from him."

By 13, having been left in Bure's ice chips long ago, the little fellow's hockey career was over.

While Bure received some technical skating instruction from a special coach at age 16, it was his father who also taught him much of the technique.

"He doesn't know how to skate," says Pavel, "but he was strong in the theory part of skating."

Vladimir Bure was an international swimmer who swam for the USSR National Team for 12 years, and in three Olympics - 1968 in Mexico, 1972 in Munich and 1976 in Montreal. The elder of his two sons was born in March 1971, the younger (Valeri) three years later.

After his competitive swimming career ended, Vladimir went into coaching at the Soviet Sports Institute. When his son became interested in hockey, Vladimir nurtured it... and he studied it.

"He started watching the great players, (Valeri) Kharlamov and (Boris) Mikhailov," recalls Pavel. "He became very strong in the technical part of hockey, then he would teach me the techniques. He never forced me into hockey... it was my choice. But my father was not against it. He only said that you have to love a sport to excel at it."

The hockey greats also had an impact on Pavel. They were his heroes... Kharlamov in particular, although Pavel was only a year old when the great Soviet forward rose to international prominence, and only 10 when he died much too early, in a car accident.

While he did see the USSR National Team games in person on occasion, Bure usually watched Kharlamov on TV.

"I remember," Pavel says, "that I liked him best. I was very upset when he died."

The legacy of Kharlamov lives in Soviet hockey.

"He was such a great player, he died at such a young age, and he did a lot for hockey in the Soviet Union," explains Bure. "Just before I left Red Army (this September), the National Team was at the cemetery. It was 10 years ago to the day he died. It is a tradition before they leave for either the World Championships or the Olympic Games to visit the grave of Kharlamov. I have been three times."

Even today, Kharlamov maintains a sobering, humbling influence on Soviet players.

Humility also comes when Pavel talks about the other Valeri, his kid brother, who plans to play junior hockey in the Pacific Northwest once the red tape issues are settled.

Valeri - pronounced Vah-LAIR-ee - is also a forward.

"He is better than me," Pavel says with pride. "A lot of people have told me that."

The personal side of the Bure's lives remains uncertain , as well as private. Pavel will answer almost any question about hockey. He declines most about anything else.

He will say that he met Jamie at the Goodwill Games, that she works in Los Angeles (as a model) and not much more. He will say that his father and brother are in California, but he doesn't know when they'll be in Canada. He will say that his mother remains in Moscow, and will be here to visit.

"Personal life," he says, "is personal."

When a Soviet player of his age - such as his good friend Sergei Fedorov of Detroit - leaves to play pro hockey, there is always the suspicion of intrigue. A master plan of escape, perhaps.

The turbulent politics in the USSR, the failed coup in August and the fact that Bure was left off the Canada Cup team are all potential pieces of the puzzle.

"I never talk about politics," Pavel says. "But I will tell you that it wasn't difficult. we did everything officially. There was no problem with the USSR. I can return, no problem, at any time. I may return for the summer."

And the Canada Cup?

"there has been a lot written about it," he adds. "I would just like to say there was a lot of conflict with the Soviet organization. We're on good terms now. I would rather leave it in the past. We have a good relationship now."

Good enough to play again at the National Team level.

"I hope to," Bure says

There are other reasons, real or imagined, why Pavel Bure is playing for the Vancouver Canucks. Real... inn that they drafted him in 1989, in the sixth round, the 113th player picked. Many clubs believed Bure ineligible for the draft, but the Canucks thought he was and took the chance. It took almost as much legal wrangling to have him declared eligible as it did to get his final release last month.

Imagined?

Two latter-day Soviet greats, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, signed with the Canucks that summer. Larionov, who has been Bure's friend since they met in 1988, is still with the Canucks. At least, it is making that part of Bure's transition game easier.

In terms of the actual decision to come, Bure says Larionov wasn't a factor.

"It was a family decision to com," he says. "I thought it would be happening a lot later than it did. When Igor and Krutov came, I thought it would be around 1994."

If however, in 1998 somebody had told Bure he would be living with the Larionovs one day, even for a few days, he'd likely have been blown away by such thought.

"When Igor and I met in 1988, we got along well and became good friends," Pavel points out. "So the possibility of his inviting me to his home existed."

For the first few days in Vancouver, Bure was the Larionovs' house guest. The game before Bure's debut, Pavel had put in a request for a goal... and Larionov scored three, his first NHL hat trick. Much of Pavel's translation is handled by Beth Novokshonoff, a third-generation Russian from Grand Forks who has been a good friend to Igor and Elena Larionov.

When the Canucks drafted him, Pavel was in Finland. There, it was easier to hear hockey news from abroad, so he knew he'd been picked. He also knew it would be difficult to turn that choice into the reality it became on November 5th, against Winnipeg.

Pavel played the first shift of the game (for trivia buffs, his linemates were Trevor Linden and Greg Adams). After 40 minutes, he seemed to have made the transition from rookie to veteran in record time. He sold tickets. He turned on the fans, who wanted a Winnipeg penalty every time a Jets player touched Bure.

He seemed moved by the fan response.

"On one hand, it was pleasant and I would like to thank them for the reception," Bure says. "But it can be very difficult if you don't come up to the fans' standard. There is a Russian saying... it is easier to climb to the top than to stay at the top. When I was 16 and joined Red Army, if I played an excellent game, they'd say I played well. If I was off my game, they'd say" 'That's alright.' Once I became a professional, and started playing on the first or second line, if I played poorly I was told about it. It wasn't alright."

Bure likens his Canucks' debut to his beginnings with Red Army.

"It took me ten games to get over the nervousness," he remembers. "The coaches were asking why wasn't I scoring Ii had severe difficulties in the ninth game. I played on adrenalin. In the tenth game, I felt relaxed, part of the team, and my play improved. I hope to get over it sooner than ten games here."

Tonight is just his fourth game with the Canucks. That first night is just a memory... one not to be forgotten. What Pavel will remember about his NHL debut is this: "Everything. How frightened I was. How nervous I was. How the fans reacted. How I didn't score. And how tired I was."

It was an auspicious debut that impressed everybody. Probably even Don Cherry.

"Who?" Bure asks inquisitively.

Oh well... he'll learn soon enough.

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