Stan Smyl was just starting out as an NHL assistant coach in 1991 when he first met Pavel Bure.
A veteran of 13 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks as a player, Smyl had heard the hype surrounding a babyfaced Russian.
“Back then, there wasn’t quite the media or the videos that you could get on players,” said Smyl. “So there was this talk about Pavel and ... what type of player he was, but you actually didn’t see it.”
Canucks head coach Pat Quinn asked Smyl to sit down with Bure before he signed his contract with the club. Smyl recalled the conversation Friday as typical of any player trying to understand what to expect in a new league on a new continent.
It was only when Bure hit the ice that Smyl fully understood what the Canucks had.
“Our tempo in our practice went up tenfold with Pavel in it,” said Smyl. “Then what you saw in that first game against Winnipeg, was a superstar and it was something we’d never had in our organization.
“Pavel was a special player.”
Bure was just that for seven seasons with Canucks and will have his No. 10 retired before Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena.
Smyl was on hand for Friday’s media event honouring Bure ahead of Saturday’s on-ice ceremony.
“There was a different personality to Pavel Bure,” Smyl said. “He had the passion that a lot of players would like to have and a lot fans like to watch.
“He had a passion for scoring goals, and you could not take that away from him.”
Bure’s name will hang in the rafters of the Canucks’ home alongside Smyl’s No. 12, Trevor Linden’s No. 16 and Markus Naslund’s No. 19.
“It’s a huge honour for me,” said Bure, who scored 254 goals and 224 assists in 428 games with Vancouver. “It’s such an honour to be in such great company.”
Dubbed the “Russian Rocket” for his lightning-quick speed, Bure had 60-goal seasons with the Canucks in 1992-’93 and ‘93-’94.
“Can you imagine being the defenceman trying to defend him? If he had that half step on you, you were done,” added Smyl. “That created a lot more space for Pavel and our team.”
Bure, 42, recalled arriving in Vancouver back in 1991 and being in awe of the attention both he and the team received.
“I remember my first practice there was like 1,000 people there,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow if so many people come to watch the practice, how many people will come watch the games?“’
The Hall of Famer credited Quinn for much of his early success, adding that his first NHL coach allowed him the freedom to roam.
“Pat is a great coach and he let me do my stuff on the ice,” said Bure. “He was giving me the options of what I want to do. If you want to score goals you have to cheat a little bit, otherwise you’re not going to score.”
Bure said the highlight of his time in Vancouver was probably the Canucks’ run to the 1994 Stanley Cup final and his memorable Game 7 overtime goal in the opening round against the Calgary Flames.
“We had so much confidence in the dressing room. We believed in ourselves,” said Bure, whose team lost the final to the New York Rangers in seven games. “Even in the final we went down (in the series) 3-1 and came back 3-3. We had huge support from the fans and the city.”
It has taken a long time for Bure’s number to be retired by the Canucks, partly because he left on bad terms by asking for a trade following the 1997-’98 season.
“I’m just happy what happens in the journey of my life,” Bure said when asked if he had any regrets with how things ended with the Canucks. “I had maybe the best time in my career here in Vancouver.”
Bure was eventually dealt to the Florida Panthers, where he scored 58 goals in the 1999-2000 season before adding 59 more the following season. Knee troubles then cut him down and after two injury-plagued years with the Rangers, he played his last game in 2003.
In all, Bure wound up with 437 goals and 342 assists in 702 games. He added 35 more goals in the playoffs — all but one as a member of the Canucks — and 35 assists in 64 games.
“The things that he did at high speed,” said Smyl, “I only did in my dreams.”