The Russian Rocket
The Vancouver Canucks prior to 1991, really had but one genuine shining moment in the sun since their establishment in the NHL.
That would be their wildly unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the heady days of 1982.
For years however through the 70s and 80s, the team’s personnel was a mix of journeymen and unfulfilled promise, with the notable exception of Stan Smyl, the team’s beloved and overachieving blue collar stalwart.
No offence to the ‘Steamer’, but his star power paled in comparison to the likes of their provincial neighbours next door in Alberta with the star laden Oilers dynasty characterized by Gretzky, Messier and company.
Then on the night of November 5th, 1991, Pavel Bure played his first game and the old perceptions changed for the Canucks in an intoxicating fashion.
The anticipation leading up to that evening had been very intense as Canucks fans nervously wondered if the Russian import would live up to the cresting hype.
He was brilliantly drafted under controversial circumstances by GM Pat Quinn, with the cunning help and thorough research of head scout Mike Penny, as most teams believed Bure to be ineligible for selection that year.
Then protracted negotiations between the Vancouver organization and the NHL (prompted by angry recriminations from other teams), followed by difficult talks with the Russian authorities put his status as a Canuck into great doubt.
Eventually though, his admissibility was sealed and the fans had a hero-in-waiting.
Pavel didn’t score that night, but from his first touch of the puck he did not disappoint.
The series of rink length rushes he mustered were spellbinding for fans that had been primarily beholden to more mundane players.
I remember sitting absolutely riveted to my seat during one particular burst as he blew past three Winnipeg Jets defenders piled up on the blue line in attempt to thwart the ‘Russian Rocket’ as he would come to be nicknamed.
Once he broke through he attempted a neat deke only to be stopped eventually.
Bure would not get his first point until his third game, nor his first goal until his fourth contest, but once the floodgates opened, the points would begin to pile up for the most electrifying Canuck that Vancouver supporters have watched to date.
Bure’s debut in video highlights courtesy of YouTube.com