In some matters Vladimir was not so hands-on. Pavel had been in the country only three weeks when he was married in a civil ceremony to a mysterious American fashion model—in newspaper accounts her first name has been variously spelled Jimy, Jamie, Jimmy; no last name was ever given—whom he had met in Seattle during the 1990 Goodwill Games. "I tell him, 'It's your deal,' " says Vladimir. "I coach sport, not love."
Pavel and what's-her-name were divorced over the summer. Pavel has denied that the marriage was one of convenience, but it had all the earmarks of a green-card special, a life preserver that would let Bure stay in the U.S. even if he didn't sign with the Canucks. His wife never lived with Pavel in Vancouver, and he will not discuss his nine-month marriage. "I do not like to talk about," he says. "Personal life personal."
He found it more difficult to wed himself to the Canucks. While the Vancouver front office dickered with the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation, the 1991-92 season started. Finally, in desperation, Pavel ponied up $50,000, from the signing bonus he was to receive, to help the Canucks buy out his contract. His deal with Vancouver was worth $2.7 million over four years.
Though he would go on to score 34 goals in 65 games last season, he did not score in his first game, a 2-2 tic with the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 5, 1991, in Vancouver. He did, however, go coast-to-coast on three dazzling rushes, sucking the breath out of 16,123 Canuck fans. "He was unbelievable," says Brian Burke, who was Vancouver's assistant general manager at the time and is now the general manager of the Hartford Whalers. From that moment on, says Burke, "Pavel was doomed to a life of celebrity."
The instant star got a guarded reception from his new teammates. Before signing, Bure had been quoted in a local paper as saying he expected to score 50 goals and make $1 million in his first season. The remark rang a bit selfish. "We worried he might be a kid with a bit of a big head," says alternate captain Ryan Walter. "But there was nothing to worry about. The fact that he reported in such great physical condition said a lot about his attitude."
Bure also has worked hard at learning English and making friends with North American-born players. He has become particularly tight with Vancouver left wing Gino Odjick. At first glance their friendship appears to be a case of opposites attracting: Bure is one of the NHL's most-feared scorers, Odjick one of its most-feared pugilists. But Odjick, a full-blooded Algonquin, grew up on an Indian reservation in Quebec. He knows how it feels to be an outsider.
When asked by a reporter if he was drawn to Bure because he empathized with the Russian's plight as a stranger striving for acceptance in a strange land, Odjick thinks for a moment and then says, "What?"
The reporter tries a different tack. As part of a wave of skilled foreign players coming into the NHL, wasn't Bure actually a threat to him? Replied Odjick, "No foreigner's going to get my job."
Antiforeigner sentiments in the league are fueled by Don Cherry, the outrageous, xenophobic Hockey Night in Canada commentator and former NHL coach. It's part of Cherry's shtick to run down players who fail to measure up to his standards of hockey manliness. Those players happen to include many of the Swedes, Finns, Czechs and Russians in the league. Bure was not exempt. In a first-round playoff game against the Jets last season, a television camera caught Bure kicking the skates out from under Keith Tkachuk. "You'd never catch a Canadian kid doing that," said Cherry, incorrectly. "Bure, ya little weasel!"
Vancouverites rallied behind Bure. Apologies from Cherry were demanded. The backlash was a measure of how fond Canuck fans had become of their Russian star in only six months. For several weeks WEASEL POWER T-shirts sold briskly.