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CambieKev Presents: Pavel Bure - Year Three (Legends Series Ep. 5)

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CambieKev Presents: Pavel Bure (Apr. 1994) - Legends Series Ep. 5

Any time Pavel Bure and the Vancouver Canucks were in town, the game was a must-watch event for local hockey fans. In such days when not all matches were broadcast on air, opportunities to watch the sport’s most splendid goal scorer were nowhere near as common as they would be today. Fans were glued to their television sets whenever an opportunity was presented to witness his nightly jaw-dropping routine.

In the blink of an eye, he could slice through an entire defence and sear an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind memory into the minds of those lucky enough to watch him play. Such players who combine grace and intelligence with speed, agility, explosiveness, power and finesse are exceptionally rare. He had every skill that every aspiring player could only ever fantasize about.

In another article I wrote for Pass It To Bulis, I examined Bure’s style of play, particularly focusing on his rookie season with the Canucks. Over the course of the following two seasons, Canucks fans witnessed the evolution of its most spectacular superstar. He kept improving, not only by adding new tactics to his arsenal, but by finally developing his famously superior sense of power.

He developed a mean streak. His tenacity and grit were another several notches greater now that he could fight through heavy obstruction without losing his momentum or footing. He had truly become the opponent’s worst nightmare. Pavel Bure could wire the puck past the goaltender from the neutral zone, relentlessly drive it to the net, bury a snappy one-timer or crash the crease. Not even the clutch-and-grab shenanigans of the era could hold him back.

In today’s presentation, we look at Bure’s performance against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on April 9, 1994, one of the final games of the 1993-94 regular season. He did not score any goals in this match, but offered more of his usual brilliance. Fans were treated to a spectacle.

A few moments from this game were featured in my 85-minute, feature-length presentation, Pavel Bure: A Rocket Through Time. Today, we have an opportunity to observe this game in greater detail.

By the conclusion of his third NHL season, Bure had recorded 154 goals in 220 games, a total that included two 60-goal campaigns. He was the fifth-fastest player in NHL history to reach 100 goals, and was likewise one of the fastest players of all time to reach the 150-goal mark. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy scored more goals in their first three NHL seasons than Pavel Bure (Kerry Banks, The Riddle of the Russian Rocket, pp. 125).

To say that every time he stepped on to the ice, he mesmerized hockey fans would be a complete understatement. He seemed unstoppable. In spite of this, there were periods when he dialed down his goal-scoring frequency. During the first half of the 1993-94 season, for instance, he and best friend Gino Odjick spent quite a bit of time on a line together.

During this time, Bure opted to become Odjick’s playmaker. Between October 11, 1993 and January 12, 1994, Odjick scored 14 goals and 22 points in 37 games, by far his hottest scoring streak of his career. As Odjick recalled in an interview with Canucks TV in 2008, his friend Bure wanted to help him with his impending contract negotiations.

Together, they succeeded. Gino Odjick became one of the Canucks’ greatest surprises of the season. Analysts were confused as to why, as of New Year’s Eve 1993, Pavel Bure had 14 goals and Odjick had 12 — second and third in goals on the roster at the time, respectively. Bure still led the team with 35 points overall, while Odjick had just 19.

While Bure supplied the offensive opportunities, Odjick protected his friend from the violent and malicious antics of some of their opponents. They were partners on the ice and the closest of friends off of it. Both were heroes to the Canucks’ faithful, but the latter had never been known for his offensive prowess. He was the Canucks’ lionhearted warrior who would stop at nothing to protect his companions — truly, one of the greatest Vancouver Canucks of all time. However, he had been a healthy scratch throughout the previous year’s playoffs.

Odjick now found himself being compared to the late Bob Probert and the Montreal Canadiens’ John Ferguson. Probert’s reputation as one of the league’s most fearsome fighters, combined with his scoring talent, made him one of the game’s most respected enforcers. During the 1987-88 season, he scored 29 goals and 62 points with the Detroit Red Wings, and then contributed 8 goals and 21 points in 16 games in their subsequent playoff run. Ferguson was another hockey gladiator who could contribute offensively. This appeared to be Gino’s path with the help of his best buddy.

“Gino Odjick has come an awfully long way. He’s in a group with Bob Probert, Marty McSorley, John Ferguson,” that kind of player,” said Edmonton journalist John Short at the time (“Canucks’ winger establishing himself,” 23 May 1994).

From their very first encounter as Canucks teammates, Odjick and Bure were an inseparable tandem.

“We have a 100-per-cent trust in each other... We can talk about anything,” said Odjick about their friendship (Roy MacGregor, The Province, 7 Jan 1994).

Vancouver Canucks v New York Rangers Vancouver Canucks v New York Rangers

“He’s from another culture and I’m from another culture... I kind of knew what he felt like coming in from somewhere else, where you don’t think the same as everybody else.” - Gino Odjick, September 1993 (Larry Pruner, Edmonton Journal, 17 Sep 1993)

“They put me out there to give Pavel a little more room to manoeuvre on the ice... If I finish all my checks and get the D (defence) looking over their shoulders, they’ll worry more about me than Pavel or Gus (Greg Adams),” Odjick told reporters in October 1993 (Grant Kerr, The Globe and Mail, 13 Oct 1993).

Their time together resulted in a significant salary increase for Odjick. At the start of the following season, the Canucks offered him a three-year, $1.6 million contract. “I just got the present I wanted... I’m really happy with it... I’m happy to get a chance to play three more years in this organization and I’m happy with the money. I never thought I’d have a chance to make that much” (Elliott Pap, The Vancouver Sun, 8 Sep 1994).

Vancouver journalist Elliott Pap noted that “Odjick is coming off a 16-goal season, by far the finest of his career. However, 14 of the goals came in the season’s first half when he was skating mostly on a line with Russian buddy Pavel Bure. Come playoffs, Big Gino was back on the fourth unit or in the press box” (Elliott Pap, The Vancouver Sun, 8 Sep 1994).

Throughout most of Pavel Bure’s time in Vancouver, he dealt with regular changes to his line. There was never any sense of stability after Igor Larionov’s departure from the team at the conclusion of Bure’s rookie season. His most consistent linemate was power forward winger Greg Adams, who during the early portion of the 1993-94 season was converted to center amidst a shortage of centermen in Vancouver. Bure rarely played at even strength with Trevor Linden, Cliff Ronning, or any of the team’s other top offensive players during these first three seasons. Pat Quinn preferred to roll his four lines in sequential order. Thus, the team’s talent was often distributed evenly across the even-strength units.

Among Bure’s linemates: Greg Adams, Igor Larionov, Gino Odjick, Murray Craven, Anatoli Semenov, Dixon Ward, Jimmy Carson, etc.

No matter who Bure played with, his line always received the attention of the opponent’s shutdown players.

“Bure’s halo effect has rippled throughout the lineup. His unit, with Semenov and Adams, draws the opposition’s checking line, Ronning and Linden usually go head to head with the defensively suspect No. 1 line and Nedved and Courtnall have generally been feasting on the second lines of other teams,” wrote sports journalist Jim Jamieson in the January 8, 1993 edition of The Province (Jim Jamieson, The Province, 8 Jan 1993).

Bure loved to score goals, but he also loved to see his best friend succeed. The first part of the 1993-94 season was a relatively slow period in terms of his own totals, partly due to a groin injury early in the campaign, but also due to a conscious effort to give his friend some additional clout.

At the start of the new calendar year, there were new challenges for Bure to tackle. The Canucks were ranked seventh in the Western Conference and on the brink of disappointing those who predicted a playoff run. His own contract was also set to expire at the end of the season.

It was now time for Bure to remind the hockey world of his capabilities as a goal scorer.

“Calling this kid a Russian Rocket is like praising Picasso for getting his work done in a hurry. It’s not just the numbers Pavel Bure puts up, it’s the creative flair with which he gets the job done that captivates hockey fans here on the road as much as in Vancouver... Right now it’s a toss-up as to who’s the most exciting player in the game: Mario Lemieux, Alexander Mogilny — or Bure.” - Jim Jamieson, The Province, January 8, 1993

His 14 goals and 35 points in 29 games as of New Year’s Eve 1993 were a far cry from the 30 goals of the goal-scoring leader, Dave Andreychuk, as well as the 29 goals and 65 points in 36 games of the points leader at the time, Sergei Fedorov. This was about to change.

In the final 51 games of the 1993-94 regular season, Pavel Bure scored 49 goals and 78 points. He finished the season with 60 goals and 107 points in 76 games. He won the NHL’s goal-scoring title for his efforts as well. Bure’s second-half surge elevated him from the 50th-ranked goal scorer and 47th-ranked point scorer to first and fifth in each respective category.

In the final 47 games of the season, Bure recorded points on nearly half of the Canucks’ goals — 46.45%, to be exact. He was their Most Valuable Player.

The 1993-94 regular season was a resounding success for both Bure and his best pal Gino. The Canucks qualified for the playoffs. The city was in high spirits.

No one could envision the unforgettable journey that awaited or the experiences that would immortalize these two in Canucks lore. For Odjick, it would be a bonus on top of the best season of his career.

Pavel Bure, meanwhile, had just achieved one of the greatest individual seasons, if not the greatest, in Vancouver Canucks history.