MOSCOW, November 15 (R-Sport, Ivan Tugarin) - The legendary Russian hockey player Pavel Bure, nicknamed The Russian Rocket, talks to R-Sport about his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his unwillingness to become a coach and his expectations about the Olympic Games in Sochi.
Pavel, when you went to play hockey overseas in 1991, did you think that one day you will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
“You know, this is the biggest individual reward that a player can get. I don’t know whether I had thought about it at the time, I’m just very glad that it happened. It is a great honor for me.”
Earlier, in May, you were inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. Can these two events be compared, in principle?
“I will say this: Both are very prestigious, but there are not many [Russian] guys in Toronto’s hall of fame. Apart from me there are [Valery Kharlamov], [Vyacheslav] Fetisov, [Igor] Larionov, [Vladislav] Tretiak. For me, it's just a huge honor to be awarded along with them.”
Have you already come to the realization that since you’re in the Hockey Hall of Fame, you brought something special to hockey?
“It’s difficult to speak about yourself. Maybe it will come later, but for now I'm just happy that it happened. For me, the biggest reward is when people say that they started watching hockey just because of me. I know that I turned many people into hockey fans. Hockey is my life, and I'm glad that I have attached a lot of people to it.”
Is it fair to say that the NHL lockout is a disaster for North America?
“Yes, of course. Not so much for the United States – they have football and basketball – but for Canada. For Canada it’s a huge loss.”
Did the players take the right position, in your opinion?
“I'm not a player or official, but just a fan of hockey. So it is bad for me that there is no hockey, that it is not broadcast, that the guys do not perform. I hope that they will be able to come to agreement. In the end, of course, they will agree, but it remains to be seen who will benefit from it. You see, everyone has their own truth and I can’t take sides. If I were a player, I would be on the side of the players, if I was an owner of a team, I would be on the other side. I just hope they will resolve the issue soon and start playing.”
Are you following the situation, and will they be able to start the season?
“There is still time to reach an agreement in December.”
There has been a lot of talk that the situation in the NHL will benefit the KHL. Do you agree?
“I think so, yes. Many guys went back to play in the KHL during the lockout. It’s interesting to see them, to watch these games. The best players in the world play in the KHL today.”
Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk said that if the terms of the contracts will be reviewed not in the players’ favor, they may stay in the KHL. To what extent do you think this is real?
“You should ask the guys about it. But Ilya ... said that he needs to see how everything will look. Everyone will have to decide for themselves.”
What’s the situation in the Russian hockey in general and in the KHL in particular? Are we moving forward?
“Of course, five years ago the KHL did not exist. Now we can say that this is the second league in the world, and even the first right now due to the lockout. The league is developing well, new teams are joining it, and hockey is becoming more popular. It’s nice to see it.”
Is Russia still a great hockey country?
“Yes. The main stars are [Evgeni] Malkin, [Alex] Ovechkin, [Ilya] Kovalchuk, and [Nail] Yakupov was the No. 1 draft pick. I believe that we are still a very strong hockey power.”
Speaking of Yakupov. Igor Larionov has recently compared Nail with you. Do you agree with this assessment? Is he really like you in terms of style of play?
“To be honest, I have not seen him play live, but Igor Larionov, one of the most respected people in the world hockey, says it. By the way, Igor was with me during the Hall of Fame selection ceremony, we talked. So if he says so, then it is so. Igor can be trusted, he is a very respected man in hockey.”
Pavel, are you keeping tabs on CSKA Moscow? How is the situation in the team now?
“CSKA is my home club, but to be specific, I am not inside the team. It’s a fact that they are playing better now, and I hope they will continue to do so.”
But CSKA is one of the worst in the league in terms of attendance.
“This is a question for the team, why does it have such attendance. Maybe they are not doing enough for people to start attending their games. I was at CSKA since I was six years old, I grew up there. Actually, my father [swimmer Vladimir Bure] was at CSKA, so I was there since birth! Naturally, I would like to see the team rattle as before, when we were playing there, when the team was the base for the national side and all the best players were there.”
Some say that you could have been working with CSKA now.
“We’ve had negotiations with some very important people, or rather not even negotiations, we were just talking. I have my position regarding what kind of structure it should be, and I suggested it, but everyone has their own vision.”
And in the end there was a difference in opinions?
“It seems so.”
If it’s not a secret, what do you do now and do you have any desire to work in Russia?
“I'm open to suggestions, I'm willing to consider them, but it has to be mutually beneficial. If there are proposals that will interest me and the people who will offer, then I'm open to talking, and we'll see. I can’t tell you anything about it now.”
Earlier in the press you said that there were proposals from Russia.
“I love the rights and obligations. I need to know specifically for what I’m responsible, and to know my powers. If this is all blurry, if it looks like 'go there, do not know where, do this, do not know what,' then it’s not for me. I love the specifics, where the black is and where the white is. I spent many years in the NHL, and I know its structure, one that has been working for over 80 years, and working well. The NHL is the best hockey structure in the world. I know how it should be, but then each takes their own decisions.”
It’s impossible not to ask about coaching. Have you no intention to coach?
“You know, never say never, but coaching does not really attract me, to be honest. Therefore most likely no, at least not yet.”
Are there reasons?
“Very often, if you're a good athlete, then you will not be a good coach, and vice versa, it often happens that an average athlete is a great coach.”
So you do not want to take the risk?
“No. Risk is not quite the right word. To date, I am not tempted to do it. Maybe sometime later I would like it. Maybe I would like to deal with a large team, with the first squad, maybe I would like to deal even with the children. Anything is possible, but now there is simply no such desire.”
A little more than a year remains until the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Can you share your expectations of this event?
“I have no doubt that they will be held at the highest level. A few months ago, the Russian president invited us hockey players and veterans to come there, to show the sports facilities. As regards hockey, we will have a very strong team, led by Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who is a very good coach. The guys are eager to play for their country.”
Is it possible that the need to win at home Olympics will play against Russia? How much pressure the guys will have to deal with?
“It is Bilyaletdinov’s goal, to do everything possible [to liberate the players]. I repeat that I consider him a very good coach, and I think that he will deal with this. Sochi will host a lot of good teams, but I think we'll be the favorites.”
Can a home Games provide a push for the development of hockey in Russia?
“The KHL already gives this push, but the Olympics, of course, will make its contribution. It's nice that sports, and particularly hockey, are developing in our country.”
The KHL has altered the format of the competition this season, citing the interests of the Russian team. Is it, in your view, the right approach? Especially since it is the NHL players who will likely provide the basis for the Russian team in Sochi.
“I think the KHL is acting correctly, doing everything in the interests of the team. We all do one thing, this is the national team. The fact that the KHL has made concessions in order for the guys to prepare better is respectable.”
Regarding the young hockey players, do you have confidence in the future?
“Hockey is developing now. Apart from the KHL there are the Minor Hockey League and even the amateur Night Hockey League. Nail Yakupov became the No. 1 draft pick. Large-scale participation is important, the more people are playing, the most likely someone will emerge. The quantity will transform into quality, and this is completely normal.”
Do you think that young players who receive offers in the NHL first need to gain experience in the KHL, or should they seize the first opportunity to go overseas and try to prove themselves there?
“It's all very individual. If a player is not yet fully grown physically, then it is reasonable to delay the departure, because everyone matures differently. But again, that is a matter of individual choice and I can not decide for everyone.”
Going back to your induction to the Hall of Fame, what advice would you give to our guys who want to repeat your success and enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto?
“If they play in the NHL, they have already achieved something big. The main thing is to be themselves and keep the direction that they have chosen.”
In conclusion, who, in your opinion, is the best hockey player in the world - Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby? Wayne Gretzky said that both are very good, but Crosby is the best. Although "The Great One" justified his choice by the fact that Sidney is his compatriot.
“Gretzky himself was the strongest in the world at the time, because he scored two times more than all the others. I played against him, and can say that he was head and shoulders above everyone else. Now there are five or six stars, which are on about the same level. Someone has a better season, someone has a worse season. But it’s difficult to say who the best is.”
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