But Bure has a confession to make in his fast improving English: "In Russia, I was not Rocket. I was just regular guy."
Back then he lived at home in a Moscow suburb with his brother and parents, drove a Lada and played for the Central Red Army team. His future was bright: Along with Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov, Bure was being groomed by Red Army coach Viktor Tikhonov to replace the legendary K-L-M line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. Glasnost, however, laid waste to Tikhonov's plans. Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres in 1989; Fedorov signed with the Detroit Red Wings the next year. In August 1991, on the eve of the Canada Cup tournament, Bure was told to sign a document that would have bound him to the Red Army club for another three years. He refused, and the team left for Canada without him.
One month later Bure, his father, Vladimir, and his hockey-playing brother, Valeri (box, page 57), were on a flight to Los Angeles. Pavel's mother, Tanya, followed them to North America two months later.
Perhaps the only people more surprised than the Red Army brass by the dramatic flight of the Bures were the Canucks, who had selected Pavel in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL draft. They hadn't expected to see him for another year or two, and his arrival in the U.S. caught them off-guard.
Ron Salcer, a Los Angeles-based sports agent who had been matched up with the Bures by Serge Levin, a Russian émigré living in L.A., took over. He put the Bures up in an apartment and began the tortuous process of getting Pavel signed with the Canucks. To sign Bure the Canucks had to grapple with both the NHL (the league wouldn't allow Vancouver to negotiate with Bure until the Canucks got permission to do so from the Red Army team) and the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation. It took two months.
It would have been easy during this time for the Bures to sit around all day watching television or ogling bikinis at the beach. (Possibly the first English slang word to enter Valeri's vocabulary was chick.) As in his homeland, Vladimir couldn't control the bureaucrats. What he could control was his sons' physical condition. He worked their butts off.
He always has. Vladimir, 41, commands his sons' respect. At meals, before helping themselves, the Bure boys pass food to their father. Vladimir was a superb athlete in his own right. As a free-styler on the Soviet swim team, he won four Olympic medals, twice finishing behind Mark Spitz in the 1972 Games. After retiring from swimming in 1979, Vladimir became a coach for the Red Army club team and later for the national swim team. In 1977 he took six-year-old Pavel to tryouts for the Red Army hockey club. He had high hopes. "Every father think his son the best," says Vladimir. "At his first practice, Pavel was the worst." For Vladimir this was unacceptable. He had a talk with his son. If Pavel did not show marked improvement in two months, he would withdraw him from the program.
"You do something—bus driver, journalist—you try to be best," says Vladimir. Pavel began to go to bed early on nights before practices. Then, unlike that first workout when Pavel sat during drills that didn't interest him, he skated the entire practice. "I didn't make him run and lift weights three hours a day," says Vladimir. "But I make sure he had focus." After a year Pavel was the best.
"He is coach," says Pavel. "He understand training very well." In Los Angeles the Bures were on the beach every morning for a run. The rest of the day consisted of weight training, more running and then skating drills whenever they could secure ice time at the Culver City Ice Arena. Vladimir skated his sons hard. Their practice goalie was Shawn Barfield (the brothers quickly nicknamed her Scan Burke after the NHL goalie with a similar moniker) who for a while was a practice goalie for the coed club team at Cal State-North-ridge. Was she any good? "Better than shooting at empty net," says Valeri. There's gratitude for you. In the evening they played tennis or soccer.
Salcer, who is chummy with actor Tony Danza, took the Bures to a taping of Who's the Boss? Says Valeri, "Was great—some great chicks." For the most part, however, it was a tense time for the Bures. Mike Beamish, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, visited them in Los Angeles in their third week there. He arrived on the same day a photographer from Upper Deck trading cards showed up. Pavel was cranky and uncooperative, and Vladimir slapped his face. "Vladimir looked like he regretted it immediately," says Beamish. "Pavel was humiliated. For a minute he was near tears."