Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini will travel across the continent this weekend for what is expected to be a historic dinner with Pavel Bure.
There, he will outline the organization’s plan to honour the Hall of Fame inductee and the most electrifying player in Canucks history.
Those close to Bure believe he will be told during supper on Saturday that the Canucks will give him equal status to the three guys who have had their jerseys retired before him.
“Francesco called him with some really good news,” said Gino Odjick, who is in Florida with Bure, his life-long friend. “He is extremely happy about it.
“It was touching, to have an owner that’s involved and recognizes he’s the first player with the Canucks to enter the Hall of Fame.
“For him to fly from Vancouver makes this a really great week, I tell you.
“Francesco has been talking about [retiring his jersey] for quite a while.
“I don’t see it not happening.”
If Odjick is right — and that’s a long way for Aquilini to travel to disappoint Bure if he’s not — it’s sure to end a remorseless debate, unifying the fan base once and for all in celebrating its greatest-ever pure goal scorer.
Bure has long been one of the most divisive Canucks. If the Hall of Fame can’t muzzle his critics, having his banner in the rafters won’t either.
For some, being the most talented player in team history will never be enough. Bure will never be lovable enough. There weren’t enough community photo-ops. He was a private man who struggled to be comfortable in public, especially with fans. There was the unverified, and vehemently denied, story that Bure threatened a holdout during the run to the Cup final in 1994 because of contract demands.
And when he felt mistreated, and lied to, he wanted to leave. He was vilified for it, and continues to be, because he was unwilling to play the part of obedient lap dog.
“Teams trade players all the time, so is it such a sin for someone to ask to get moved?” Odjick said. “I don’t think so.
“At the end, when he asked for a trade, the writing was on the wall. The new regime had taken over with Mark Messier and before that Mike Keenan. Martin Gelinas got traded. Trevor Linden got traded. Russ Courtnall was gone. Everyone was gone.
“He was the last one left. His family had been torn apart and the team had gone in another direction.”
In June, Pat Quinn took on Bure’s critics after he announced the induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Quinn defended Bure’s character and urged Vancouver to honour him properly.
“If the Canucks are wise at all, they would have him come out and ask him to be there,” Quinn said then.
“If you’re going to recognize anybody, you probably should recognize the most electrifying player we’ve ever had in uniform.”
When the Canucks retired Markus Naslund’s number, much was made of the high set of criteria they had set internally for retiring a number. Naslund met the standard by combining his great skill on the ice with a devotion to community service.
For the Canucks to Hang 10, they will need to make an exception for their only Hall of Famer, because all of Bure’s accomplishments were on the ice.
“In Vancouver is where he was at his best,” Odjick said. “There were a few years where he was the most exciting player in hockey.
“He was something special. You just never saw people with that speed and that courage.”
Invitations to join Vancouver’s Ring of Honour have been unappealing to Bure, loath to accept a lesser status than Linden. And it would have looked ridiculous to see Bure’s name there after he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Odjick will be at Bure’s side in Toronto for Monday’s ceremony. The two were instant friends, playing on the same fourth line together in Bure’s first game. Odjick often jokes they hit it off despite a language barrier because they loved to chase women. But the friendship became much deeper.
“I can remember the books I would see him reading, things like the history of Russia,” Odjick recalled. “I could relate because I always liked to read about great chiefs.
“He was proud of his history. I was extremely proud of being First Nations and where I was from. There were things in common with us even before words were ever spoken.”
“After the first road trip, we asked for adjoining rooms [Bure roomed with Igor Larionov]. It was special. We spoke about things in private and they always stayed private. I never had a brother growing up. He was here alone. We basically became brothers over the years.
“We knew with the connection we made, it was going to last the rest of our lives.”
Odjick still marvels at Bure’s fitness.
“Nobody has ever matched his V02, his flexibility and his power. It was simply amazing,” Odjick said. “There wasn’t one muscle he didn’t work on. It was twice a day, six days a week.
“He could run forever, but he was built for speed. Vladimir (Bure’s father and the Canucks’ fitness consultant) used to always time us in the 100-metre and 200-metre run. One time, Pavel ran at UBC and he timed him at 10 seconds flat in the 100 metres. At that time, it was world class.
“It made him a superstar.”
It’s about time he was honoured like one.
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