Is it really Nov. 5, 1991, at the Pacific Coliseum? It’s printed on the tickets and programs. But you’d swear it was playoff time. The 16,000 Vancouver Canucks faithful quake with anticipation. It’s finally time to see what he can do, the brash young Russian kid, imported from the Red Army, who goes by the name of Pavel Bure. The hype is so great that coach and GM Pat Quinn delayed Bure’s debut a game so it wouldn’t steal thunder from Stan Smyl’s jersey retirement.
And in the blink of an eye, Bure takes his first stride toward becoming the franchise’s greatest player ever. He carries the puck the length of the ice, splitting the Winnipeg Jets defense. He’s so fast his body arrives in the slot before the puck. He has to kick it back to himself to finish the breakaway with a deke. He doesn’t score, but it doesn’t matter.
Especially to a 16-year-old kid named Michael Buble, attending with his grandfather. As season ticket holders, they never miss a game. And yet Buble still has never seen or felt anything like this.
“I literally and figuratively sat on the edge of my seat and bounced like a horse, like I was riding a horse, and as you looked around everyone else was doing it, too, everyone was almost jockeying,” Buble said. “It was electric. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, we have never had a player like this before. Not just a good player. We have a genuine superstar.’ ”
Little did Buble realize at the time, he’d one day bring thousands to their feet in packed arenas the same way Bure did. Except Buble, now 40, did it with his voice, not his feet. He developed a passion for crooners, jazz and soul music, listening to his grandfather’s huge collection of records. Buble idolized the likes of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. His granddad, a plumber, was so convinced his grandson would become a musician some day that he’d offer his plumbing services to other performers in exchange for stage time for Buble. By 17, one year after witnessing the Russian Rocket’s launch, Buble had won the British Columbia Youth Talent Search competition. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney discovered Buble’s independent album. Buble eventually got signed by mega-producer David Foster and is now one of Canada’s most successful recording artists ever, with half a dozen multi-platinum albums and Grammys galore.
But if you’re a music buff, you probably know that about him already. What you might not know, though, is that worldwide fame did nothing to quell his other life passion: hockey.
Buble jumps at the chance to put aside music and talk about anything to do with the sport. He’s as much a superfan as any rabid late-night sports radio caller. He says hockey was even more important to him than music when he was growing up. As a kid, he’d pretend he was the Canucks’ Patrik Sundstrom or Tony Tanti. He grew to love longtime captain Trevor Linden and, of course, Bure. Buble felt the anguish of the 1994 Stanley Cup loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7.
“It was heartbreaking, because we truly were so close,” he said. “We were a post away. A crossbar away. And some s—ty refereeing away.”