Pavel Bure was finally honoured by the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, as his #10 jersey was retired by the team in a special ceremony prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I’ve been following the Canucks since they played their very first game in the NHL in October, 1970. It was a fun time to be a Canucks fan, as there was plenty of excitement about joining the NHL. Even though the team was mostly made up of has-beens from other teams and other leagues, it was exciting to follow them.
I was reminded of that era the other day while reading a collection of Sports Illustrated stories on Bobby Orr, which have now been collected into a book. Many were published in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the era when Orr and the Boston Bruins were dominating the league.
The first Canucks and NHL game I ever saw featured them playing (and getting pummeled by) the Bruins early in 1971. Orr, with Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman and a host of other top players, were the toast of the league.
The stories about Orr and the NHL back in those days were in some ways quaint. One recounted how Orr had shaken up the league’s salary structure by getting a contract for $200,000 over three seasons. Another stated how he was not told by his agent Alan Eagleson of an offer by the Bruins to keep him in Boston after 10 years of playing — an offer that included him getting an 18 per cent stake in the team.
The NHL today is far different. For starters, there are 30 teams instead of 14. There are many great players from all around the world, which was not the case in 1970, and the skill level of today’s NHL player is likely the best ever seen on the ice.
The NHL gets far more media attention. When the Canucks first joined the league, we’d be lucky to see one or two games broadcast on TV each month. They were only on Hockey Night in Canada, and those games were always at 5 p.m. on Saturdays — no exceptions.
To keep up, you had to listen to radio broadcasts of the games (with the incomparable Jim Robson doing play-by-play) and read newspapers closely.
Today, hockey games are everywhere on television and the internet. However, there are so many games against teams that aren’t too exciting that it gets kind of mind-numbing, especially early in the season.
Bure was one of those forceful and exciting players who only comes along very rarely — like Orr. He most certainly is the most exciting player to ever play for the Canucks. With his talent and a cast of strong supporting players, the Canucks made their best run ever at a Stanley Cup.
That run in 1994 remains the most exciting moment in Canucks’ history, which unfortunately has often been filled with disappointments.
Bure is the only player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Canuck. It was long past time that he was honoured by the team.
The Canucks’ history matters, and he is a key part of the team’s legacy.