by Ron Spence
During the 1996-97 season, I interviewed Pavel Bure for a Hockey Illustrated feature on the post-season.
Vancouver wouldn’t make the playoffs that spring nor the one that followed. Pavel then sat out most of the 1998-99 season, but played in 11 games for Florida, scoring 13 goals.
The Panthers didn’t reach the post-season that campaign, but played in four games in 2000, when Pavel scored 1 goal and 3 assists against the Devils – who went on to win the Cup.
Pavel didn’t get into the post-season after he was traded to the Rangers during the 2001-02 season, but scored 12 goals in 12 games to complete that New York campaign.
He played 39 games during 2002-03, which was his final season as a player, and New York once again didn’t make it into the playoffs.
So Pavel’s post-season career was mostly with the Canucks.
They call it the second season.
The first season is the regular 82 game schedule. This is followed by the Stanley Cup playoffs. The implication is the two seasons are the same, but with the second having fewer teams and games.
That’s what Pavel Bure thought before he came to the NHL.
His father, Vladimir, remembers his son’s rookie playoffs. “The first year (1992) it was tough because he hadn’t played in the playoffs. He didn’t know what it meant – the two seasons. What do we do? I was prepared because Valeri’s – Pavel’s brother – playoff in Spokane started two weeks before the NHL’s.
‘So,’ I said, ‘the playoffs are different hockey.’
“No,” Pavel said. “It’s the same.”
After the first game, he called and said, ‘You’re right. It’s different hockey.’”
Shocked or not, Pavel quickly elevated his second season play. His first playoff, in 1992, he had 10 points in 13 games. His second playoffs he had 12 points in 12 games and in 1994, when the Canucks battled for the Stanley Cup, he had 31 points in 24 games.
He led all players with 16 goals, three short of the NHL record.
And, as Pavel increased his second season intensity, he’s also altered his style of play during the regular season.
”When he first came in the NHL,” said fellow Canuck, Gino Odjick, “he was more of a pure goal scorer. He’d drive to the net and beat the D wide and now he’s learned how to pass the puck more, and stop up and wait for people to catch up. And, you know I think he’s improved as a player, maybe not looking at his stats in the last couple of years, but from his passing and stuff like that. He’s changed his style a little bit.”
“As you get older,” Dave Babych adds, “you might pick your holes a little better. I think when the opportunity arises Pavel does what he’s known for. He tries to go all the way but now people play him a little different too. They don’t give him the opportunities, but with that talent he makes his own….”
(Pavel’s patented end to end rushes were patterned after his hockey idols, Valeri Kharlamov and Boris Mikhailov.
”Those guys,” Pavel remembers, “could get the puck behind the net, beat everybody and put the puck in the empty net. That’s what I liked about them.”)
One reason for Pavel’s change is the D were playing him tighter.
“Usually, they play the same defensemen against me (Laughs). They say you should go around them. It’s hard to do anyway because they’re really good. I guess you just try and create something and try and wait until he makes a mistake and sneak behind him…it’s more like a tactical game. It’s not just ‘one on one.’ It’s almost impossible to beat any of them ‘one on one’ because they are so good. They can skate well. They’re big. They can hit you. So I think I’m using more my mind on how you can fool them. Maybe, I’ll pass it a few times so maybe he’ll think I’m going to pass and you can try and beat him. But, if you go ‘one on one,’ I don’t think anybody can beat anybody ‘one on one.’”
When asked how his game has changed, however, it’s difficult for Pavel to answer because he’s still not fully recovered from his knee injury and the resulting layoff.
“It’s really a hard question right now,” Pavel explains, “because I’m just trying to recover after the injury and I wouldn’t say I’m back at 100%. Basicly, I was out for almost two years…the lockout, the screwed up season and after that I got the injury. When you don’t do something for a long, long time, you kind of lose something or forget a little bit so that’s why it’s kind of hard to answer that question whether it’s changed or not.”
Another reason for Pavel’s change is Tom Renney’s weak side lock system which stresses defense. And Renney acknowledges it’s difficult for a marquee player to alter his style.
“I think wherever you go to a rival city, they don’t want the signatures of the plumbers, so much as they want the signatures of the Bures. That’s a heavy cross to bare sometimes, because you know obviously you’re singled out as being one of the better players on that team…so I think that people like Pavel feel they have an obligation to the game to be exciting and bring the people out of their seats. But at the same time he’s got to play against five other guys on the ice at the same time…Sometimes you forego some systems play or some things that have to be done collectively in order to have success to bring the people out of their seats, and make people feel like they’ve got their money’s worth.”
“Pav is a very exuberant player,” coach Renney continues, “and I guess he uses his instincts as well as anyone in the game. Sometimes he almost overworks to make things happen and I guess I probably look from the defensive side of the puck rather than the offensive side of the puck. I think instinctually you do whatever you need to do offensively and he’s wonderful there. Defensively, he sometimes tries to do a little bit more than he should and leaves himself and his team mates a little bit vulnerable. He’s an exuberant player who adds more to what this game needs on a daily basis. And that’s just spontaneity of playing and watching a great player.”
But, it’s not only Pavel who’s had to change his style.
A “great player’s” linemates must adapt to his “systems.”
Mike Ridley describes playing with Pavel: “I think it’s a little different from playing with many other wingers because Pavel’s carrying the puck. So if you’re playing ‘dump and chase,’ that’s not Pavel’s kind of game. Pavel likes the ‘fast break’ and ‘turnover hockey’ type of thing, and with his speed he’s able to hang onto the puck in their end. Basically, when you’re playing with Pavel, you try to either set up a ‘pick’ for him or ‘get open’ or whatever….”
With Pavel’s injury last season, his “fast break” and “turnover hockey” were sorely missed by the second season Canucks. This April, his team mates are hoping he’ll be 100%.
His good friend Gino is confident: ‘He showed a desire to win and certainly went out and did everything to win that Cup in 1994. Every year we’ve played in the playoffs, he always seems to step up his play. I can only remember one playoff (1992) when it was tough and they had Manson and Kevin Lowe playing against him.”
Crucial to Pavel’s second season success is his physical play. That 1994 season, when he was second in playoff points with 31, he also had 40 penalty minutes.
“I wouldn’t say I was playing more physically,” Pavel clarifies. “as much as when the playoffs come, it’s a more physical game, because everybody finishes their checks all the time. You go to the slot and people try to push you away from there, but you just stay. It’s a little bit different game, you know. There’s more sacrificing during the playoffs.”
So, will the Canucks “sacrifice” to win this spring?
”That’s a good question,” Pavel puzzles. “It’s hard to tell. Sometimes it seems you do everything the same, but it just doesn’t work…even that year, 1994 in the beginning of the playoffs, I don’t think we played really well. We were down 3-1, and everybody predicted we were going to lose 4-1 or 4-0. And then something clicked, and then we won three overtimes in a row and we beat Dallas 4-1 and Toronto 4- 1, and then something clicked and we were on fire.”
Fortunately for Vancouver fans, Pavel loves the second season and knows he has to “sacrifice” to win.
“I can tell you right now,” Pavel smiles, “it’s the best time of year when you go in the playoffs. It’s so much fun. Everybody’s working hard – playing hard. It’s lots of fun, because every game is so important. If you win, ‘Wow, we’ve got two or three to go and we’ll go to the next round.’ I think it’s the best time of the year.”