Pavel Bure was without question the most dynamic and talented hockey player to wear a Canucks jersey. He scored 50 goals in his rookie season and went on to lead the team in scoring for the next 6 years. Bure was the complete athlete with a combination of speed, skill, and an intuitive understanding of the game that made him one of the elite players in the NHL. During his tenure with the Canucks, the team went from the basement of the western division to the Stanley Cup finals. He was nicknamed The Rocket, a moniker that had been given to the legendary Maurice Richard back in the fifties and left dormant until someone of equal skill and will picked up the torch.
Wayne Gretzky in his prime had the burly and dangerous Dave Semenko ride shotgun on his line, and Semenko made sure opponents didn’t get physical with The Great One. Pavel Bure had Gino Odjick, the Algonquin enforcer, doing the same job. “When I played, if anyone went into Pavel’s airspace, he was getting a beating,” Odjick told the Vancouver Sun. The two players who came from completely different backgrounds became close friends during the years they played for the Canucks. Their friendship has remained intact over the years as both have left hockey for endeavours in the private sector.
Pavel Bure returned to Vancouver on November 2nd, to have his jersey retired, an honour that should have been bestowed upon him a long time ago. The reason it took so long goes back to the nineties when the Canucks fired Pat Quinn, who had saved the franchise and hired the volatile and sometimes mindless Mike Keenan. There had been contractual problems with management, but they were a drop in the bucket compared to the animosity that was building up between Bure and his coach. Keenan’s boot camp mentality and his habit of letting the media know which players he disliked—and Pavel Bure was on top of the list—built a wall between him and The Rocket.
Keenan was one of the Canucks management’s biggest mistakes, but by the time they realized it, Pavel Bure wanted to be traded to another team. It was a sad ending that somehow tainted Bure’s legacy and made the new management hesitant in retiring his jersey. Gino Odjick, took it personally. “I was crazy enough to believe Pavel could get into the Hall of Fame and he could get his jersey retired.” He knew Francesco Aquilini, who was part of the family who owned the Canucks and for eight years tried to convince him to retire Pavel Bure’s jersey. Finally, when Pavel Bure was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame, Gino convinced Aquilini to come to Toronto for a dinner with Bure. “I got them to that dinner. This doesn’t happen without Pat Quinn at the Hall of Fame. And it doesn’t happen without Francesco Aquilini.”
The Canucks owner realized he was now dealing with the Canucks only member in the NHL Hall of Fame and agreed it was time for Bure’s jersey to be hoisted to the rafters. “This is really about the fans. That’s why I did this. Pavel was tremendously popular. I know lots of people who became fans because of Pavel,” he said. On November 2nd, after a five minute standing ovation, Pavel Bure’s jersey was raised to rafters and will remain there forever. A very emotional Bure was filled with gratitude for his former team and his friend Gino, who he insisted be on the ice with him for the ceremony.