On November 5th, 1991, the Vancouver Canucks played a 2-2 tie at home against the Winnipeg Jets that would have been forgotten the next day, had the debut of a 20-year-old Russian winger named Pavel Bure not made it one of the most remembered games in Canucks history.

From the time the Canucks drafted Bure in 1989, everything about the teenage phenom seemed shrouded in hype and mystery. Like Cuban baseball players, Soviet-raised hockey players like Bure were easily exoticized into nearly mythic figures. They played for clubs with propagandized names like Central Red Army, only appeared in North America when on tour with the vaunted Soviet National Team, and generally played with an undeniable style that seemed to come from a completely different lineage than that of their North American counterparts––like the difference between Soviet and Western art.

Pavel Bure signing for Vancouver Canucks- Adsum
Trying out the #10 jersey with Pat Quinn, November 1, 1991.

When Bure finally made it to Vancouver after nearly two years of contractual and diplomatic negotiations to bring him to the NHL, the hype around him had created a level of pressure that could have been suffocating for many other young players. However, when Bure stood out on the blue line with the Canucks starting lineup before that first game, chewing gum with a wry smile, he didn’t look one to feel even one ounce of pressure.

Pavel Bure and Gino Odjick - Adsum
Arriving for practice with Gino Odjick (left) - 1994.

In his first shift on the ice, Bure drifted back towards his own net to receive the puck. As he picked up the puck deep in his own end, he immediately turned and began flying towards center ice with the speed that earned him the nickname “The Russian Rocket.” The Jets skaters lined up across their blue line, like an outdated military trying to stop a fighter jet by digging a trench. As Bure reached the blue line to cross into the attacking zone, he pulled the puck wide to open up the first defender, then nutmegged him as he raced into the zone. With the puck now slightly behind him as a second defender tried to reach in with his stick, Bure used his trailing skate to flick the puck back to his stick, then burst in on goal, dangled the puck an extra beat to get the goalie to commit, then tried a low shot that the goalie barely saved with his leg pad.

Bure didn’t score the goal, but in that moment he introduced Canucks fans to their new superstar. With the NHL at the time favoring slow, physical hockey, Bure also introduced the league to what would become its future, where virtuosic technical skill would happen at breathtakingly high speed. It was a moment that also foreshadowed the future of Bure’s hall of fame career that would solidify the lineage of stylish Russian hockey from the mysterious and exotic stars of the Soviet era to the beloved superstars of today.