This Friday, Pavel Bure will finally be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Although his career was cut short due to injury, he left a lasting impression on the hockey world with his electrifying speed and skill.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” – Neil Young
Pavel Bure truly was one-of-a-kind. We often hear the words “generational talent” thrown around in the sporting world, usually out of context. But they perfectly describe Bure. At his peak, the Russian Rocket was the most exciting hockey player on the planet, and one of the most exciting athletes, too.
I counted down the top 10 Pavel Bure moments in this post last year, but with Pavel’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction coming this Friday, I wanted to expand a bit on what made him so special.
There were many reasons why Bure remains such a beloved figure in the hockey world. With regards to his on ice play, you will find a general consensus among hockey fans that his acceleration was his best attribute. He could get to loose pucks faster than anyone else. The closest I have seen a player come to having Bure’s first two steps since is New York’s Marian Gaborik. He lived to score goals. Bure didn’t just want to score goals, he needed to. It was if he had an internal fire that was only stoked when he lit the lamp.
This video below shows a very young Trevor Linden interviewing his teammates. Skip ahead to the 1:00 mark where he asks Bure, “Rocket, what do you want for Christmas?”
Bure’s answer was to the point. “Million goals.”
(And yes, that is a young Garry Valk beside Bure).
What separated Bure from his peers wasn’t just his quickness, though. His ability to process the game of hockey at top speed (and more importantly, his top speed) remains unmatched. There have been countless players who have come and gone in NHL who could skate as fast as Bure, but none of them could make plays or handle the puck at the speed he could.
Bure was an enigmatic and mercurial figure off the ice. He was a man of few words. He wasn’t a media darling during his playing days, and he has stayed well off the radar since retiring (although he made up for that with a surprise appearance on the TEAM 1040 in 2009 as a part of an April Fools’ prank to announce his return to hockey).
He also conducted an interview with Alyonka Larionov last year – in it he reveals what he has been up to since retiring (he has put his athletic ability to good use, earning a black belt in jiu-jitsu).
For more on Bure’s life off the ice, I highly recommend The Riddle of the Russian Rocket, written in 1999 by Kerry Banks.
Katie Strang of ESPN wrote a very good piece on Bure earlier this week, as well.
Like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, Bure’s success was no fluke. He had a lot of natural athletic talent, but he cultivated it through sheer hard work.
Odjick said Bure’s “tortuous” six-day-a-week regimen started at 4 a.m. with a 5K run, followed by a slew of sprints and plyometrics. When Bure and his brother, fellow NHLer Valeri, would train with their dad, they’d sprinkle in a game of tennis and “Russian basketball,” which is hockey played with a basketball, to end the day.
Some speculate that Bure’s extreme commitment to fitness led to his numerous knee injuries (his legs were so big and so muscular that his knee ligaments simply couldn’t support them), but it also was a major reason why he was able to dominate against the best hockey players in the world.
And we will probably never know the true reasons for his less-than-amicable split with the Canucks, but as time goes on, the wounds will heal for both sides. Most fans in Vancouver have forgiven Bure, as he brought so much excitement to the rink every night. Of the four major sports, hockey is perhaps the most team-oriented. A great team will trump a great collection of individuals every time. But Bure had that quality that only the true greats possess – no matter the stakes, the score, or the time in the game, he captivated his audience. You had no choice but to watch when he was on the ice.
His time in Florida gets overlooked a bit, but he continued to score at an incredible clip in the middle of the dead puck era. His 58 goals in 1999-00 was exactly double the number scored by his next closest teammate (Ray Whitney), and 14 more than any other player in the entire league (Owen Nolan lit the lamp 44 times for San Jose). And he outdid himself in 2000-01, scoring 59 goals (five more than fellow HHOF inductee Joe Sakic).
However you view Bure, athletes like him don’t come around very often. For someone who was in the spotlight for close to 15 years, Bure maintained a level of privacy not often seen from celebrities nowadays. He let his play do the talking, and it continues to do so long after he left the game.
He should have been in the Hockey Hall of Fame long ago. But that doesn’t matter now, as this Friday Bure will finally be given the recognition he deserves – as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
“It’s a huge honor to be named a Hall of Famer,” said Bure, who will be joined at the ceremony in Toronto by his mother and other family members. “I’m just happy to join all the greatest hockey players in the game.”
He didn’t shine for as long as we all would have hoped, but when he did, it was magnificent.