Florida Panthers' Pavel Bure (10) moves down ice before scoring a goal in the first period of a hockey game Friday, Jan. 26, 2001, in Sunrise, Fla. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Bill Harrington)
The Olympic men's hockey tournament in Vancouver is going to be a different experience for Pavel Bure.
It will be the first time since NHLers started participating in the Games that the Russian Rocket won't be involved with the national team. Bure played for Russia in 1998 and 2002 and served as the team's general manager in 2006.
With Vladislav Tretiak now in charge of the Russian squad, Bure's role in 2010 will be that of a spectator. And just like most hockey fans, he's already looking forward to the event.
"I think it's the best tournament," Bure told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "All of the best superstars can go and participate, that's why it's really hard to win this tournament. All the teams are pretty even. You need a little bit (of) luck in this tournament and all the games are really important because you lose one game and you're out.
"It's really interesting for fans and it's a great promotion for hockey in general around the globe."
An Olympic gold medal eluded the former NHL star during his career.
Bure scored nine goals in six games for Russia at the 1998 Nagano Games, but he was held off the scoresheet in the gold medal final by netminder Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic. The Russians were beaten 1-0 in that game and settled for silver.
Four years later in Salt Lake City, Bure played a more limited role while Russia won bronze. The team he assembled in 2006 was as skilled as any in Turin, but finished fourth.
The Olympic tournament has proven to be unpredictable over the years and Bure expects that to remain the case in Vancouver. He has no idea who will win in 2010.
"No predictions," said Bure. "There's probably going to be like six or eight teams that can go all the way. Eight teams will be in the quarter-finals, anything can happen. There's possibly going to be some huge upsets.
"You never know, that's why it's interesting."
The only message he has for those who get to participate is to enjoy the experience - win or lose.
"You know you don't have too many chances to go there," said Bure. "Maybe like once in a lifetime. You never know what's going to happen in the future - maybe the NHL won't let the players go to Olympic Games, that's why it's the opportunity of your life."
Amazingly, Bure is already six years removed from his last NHL game.
The 38-year-old now makes his home in Miami, but recently travelled back to Russia to take part in the NHLPA's Goals & Dreams 10th anniversary tour. He attended the event in Moscow's Red Square and helped distribute hockey equipment to kids, many of them orphans.
He's participated in similar events on behalf of the NHLPA in the past and hopes to do so again in the future.
"When I was growing up, it was almost impossible to get some nice stuff," said Bure. "Those kids whose parents don't have money - some kids actually didn't have parents - it was a big deal for them to just get hockey equipment.
"It doesn't matter if they grow up to be hockey players or not, they're going to grow as healthy kids. That's most important."
Bure certainly doesn't have any regrets about the way things have turned out for him. A five-time 50-goal scorer between 1992 and 2000, he was arguably the most dynamic player of his generation.
However, a series of knee injuries plagued him throughout his NHL career and ultimately brought it to a premature end. He still experiences a little bit of discomfort today.
"When I'm walking around, it's pretty good," said Bure. "If I try to play tennis for too long or if I go ski for too long, I can feel it. Regular life, like everybody else lives, I'm OK."
Bure has made a smooth transition to life after hockey.
He serves as an adviser to the president of the Russian Olympic Committee and otherwise has plenty of free time. There have been rumours of a comeback attempt over the years, but Bure claims he's never really seriously considered it.
"No, it's never even crossed my mind," he said. "What's done is done. I had a great time. I appreciate everything that God gave me, how fans support me and for everything. But it's in the past.
"Right now I'm in a different stage of my life."
And, truth be told, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I'm really enjoying my life," said Bure. "I feel like it's the best time of my life right now."