Monday, July 18, 2011

Memory Monday: Valeri Bure

[Memory Monday Archive]

Many NHL teams regretted passing on a smallish but speedy Russian forward in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Pavel Bure, selected 113th overall that summer, may have seen his career shortened by chronic injuries, but when he was healthy, he was a dominant force, recording 2 60-goal seasons and others of 58 and 59.

With Pavel having just completed his rookie season in the NHL at nearly a point per game, one would understand, then, why the Canadiens felt it a necessary gamble to take his younger brother, Valeri, in the 2nd round (33rd overall) in 1992, hoping that his similar frame might be capable of similar production.

In hindsight, we all know that Valeri didn't have the skillset of Pavel, but that is not to say he was a slouch, retiring in 2005 after a successful career both on and off the ice.

Bure arrived in North America in his draft year, adapting to the WHL game over the course of the season before exploding for 17 points in 10 playoff games. While the Habs were busy winning a Stanley Cup in the 1992-93 season, fans were also getting excited about the performance of their young Russian prospect, who tripled his production from his first season, going from 49 points in 53 games to 147 points in 66 games, far and away best on his team and good for second in the league.

Valeri's dominance continued to the American Hockey League, where he scored above a point-per-game pace in his rookie pro season, but showed little during a 20 game call-up with the Canadiens. 1995-96 was Bure's true rookie year at the NHL level and he found a home on a trio dubbed "The Smurf Line" alongside fellow short-but-skilled young Europeans Saku Koivu and Oleg Petrov. Chemistry between the three led to an initial 22-goal season for Valeri, but his production tapered off the following 2 years and he was dealt to the Calgary Flames along with a 4th round selection for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski.

His best seasons lay ahead, however, as he put up seasons of 26, 35 (combined with Pavel's 58, this set a record for most goals in a season by a brother duo), and 27 goals with the Flames, before eventually joining his brother Pavel with the Florida Panthers.

Valeri's final season (2003-04) saw him register a very respectable 22 goals and 52 points, but he became one of many victims of the NHL lockout. Following back surgery, despite signing a deal with the Los Angeles Kings, he would never play a game for them, and thus opt to end his career on his own terms to focus on other pursuits.

It is perhaps these "other pursuits" that Habs fans will keep most in their minds when thinking back about Valeri. While playing with the Canadiens, Bure married former Full House actress Candace Cameron and they would have three children together. Following his retirement, Bure and Cameron founded a popular winery, called Bure Family Wines, in partnership with friends of the family. Bure also participated in Battle of the Blades - CBC's answer to Dancing With the Stars, a competition pairing former NHL'ers with figure skaters - in 2010, and won the show's second season skating with fellow Russian Ekaterina Gordeeva.

Valeri may never have been Pavel, but he had a productive NHL career, and has succeeded where others have failed in living out a quality family life beyond the sport. For this, the younger Bure brother has earned his spot in the memory banks of Habs fans.

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