Gaudette was just six years old when Bure logged his final National Hockey League game with the New York Rangers in 2003, a few months before failing the physical that prematurely ended his Hall-of-Fame career.
Still, Gaudette knows all about the Russian Rocket.
“I grew up watching videos on YouTube,” Gaudette, who just turned 24, said over the phone from his Boston area home. “What do you think I did at school? I’ve known who Pavel Bure was for as long as I can remember. One of the trainers I worked out with when I was younger, he loved Pavel Bure and had his number up on the wall. I looked him up, watched his highlights all the time. Honestly, I was always a fan of him.”
On Monday, the news of Gaudette re-signing with the Canucks on a one-year, salary-cap-crisis-induced contract was trumped by the centre’s announcement on social media that he would wear a new number in Vancouver – dropping No. 88 in favour of 96.
It wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
As Gaudette explained Tuesday during an interview with Sportsnet and on a Zoom call with Vancouver reporters, his agent, Matt Keator, asked Gaudette to surrender 88 to new Canuck Nate Schmidt, who is also represented by Keator and was acquired last week from the Vegas Golden Knights.
No problem. Gaudette was happy to inherit No. 8, his old digit now available with the free-agent departure of Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev.
But an hour after Gaudette got in touch with the Canucks’ training staff to claim No. 8, he received a text from veteran defenceman Jordie Benn, asking for the number he wore with the Montreal Canadiens before signing with Vancouver in 2019.
Gaudette sought counsel from Jay Beagle, the Canucks’ senior statesman, who said deferring to the 33-year-old Benn was the right thing to do and besides: “Hey, 96 is really fast.”
“I told him: ‘You’re not wrong about that,’” Gaudette said. “I said (to Benn): ‘It’s all yours; take me and my wife out to dinner sometime.’ But if it was Millsy, I probably wouldn’t have given it to him.”
The idea of depriving J.T. Miller of anything somehow gives mirth to teammates, but No. 9 works really well for Miller. So Gaudette took No. 96 because it was the year he was born and 88+8=96.
We tell this delightful and inconsequential story about Gaudette’s new number because Bure is an endless source of fascination for everyone on the West Coast too young to have seen him play, and Gaudette’s improvement as an NHL player hinges largely on his ability to continue getting faster and stronger.
And nobody was faster in Canucks’ history than Bure – unless the race was in a straight line, in which case enforcer Shawn Antoski once dusted the Russian Rocket at practice.
Wearing Bure’s number certainly won’t diminish Gaudette’s motivation, although the former fifth-round pick’s determination for self-improvement is already responsible for everything he has achieved in hockey.
“I’m someone who has always had motivation just being kind of looked down on a little bit, and not as highly-praised as some other guys,” Gaudette said. “That’s always been a driver for me. I’m not somebody who can ever really be satisfied with where I’m at. I’ve always got to get better because there’s always going to be somebody who is more skilled, who has better hands or a better shot.
“But with a lot of coaches, if you’re the one who shows them you’re willing to work and go the extra mile, sell out every shift, they’ll still play you. I’m going to go out and work my hardest every shift. That’s what you’re getting from me.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything and halted the Canucks’ 50th anniversary celebrations last season, the team was able to add Alex Burrows to its Wall of Fame inside Rogers Arena.
“Burrows is a great guy to look up to – the way he came into the league and the way he worked his way up,” Gaudette said of the undrafted free agent out of the East Coast League. “That was something I always looked up to, and I want to be that guy for other kids — young kids who can’t believe how hard this guy works and want to be like that. That’s what I’m looking for in a teammate: someone who doesn’t stop, keeps going.”
Burrows and Bure weren’t entirely different. Each one’s name started with BUR.
Without rights to arbitration or an offer sheet, Gaudette had little leverage as a restricted free agent, even after a mostly-impressive season in which he seized a lineup spot, refused to relinquish it, and finished with 12 goals and 33 points in 59 games.
He accepted a one-way deal for $950,000, a whopping raise of $25,000 at a time when NHL finances are in recession. And forget about a signing bonus for him and his bride to spend.
Gaudette married Micaela Robinson at her parents’ house in Goshen, N.Y. in June, a couple of weeks before Gaudette returned to Vancouver to prepare for the Canucks three-round playoff run over the summer.
“My honeymoon was Edmonton,” he said of the “bubble” city.
Gaudette went pointless in 10 playoff games. He was healthy-scratched after the Canucks’ playoff opener but, as he did in the regular season, Gaudette kept himself in the lineup after he was given a second chance by coach Travis Green.
He’ll have more to prove next season, playing on that one-year deal with a Seattle expansion draft looming and financial stress around the Canucks for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not so much another contract that I’m looking for,” Gaudette told reporters. “I want to be relied on more and I’m going to have to prove that and prove myself. That’s something I’ve had to do every year. That’s something that I embrace.
“I think a guy like me, every year is kind of a bet-on-himself year. I’ve always had to work for everything I’ve gotten, and that’s never going to change throughout my career.”
Bure had it a little easier, although iconic former Canucks coach and GM Pat Quinn made the winger wait for No. 96. Bure asked for it upon his sudden arrival from Moscow in 1991, but the old-school Quinn eschewed high numbers, especially for young players, and issued Bure No. 10.
Quinn relented in 1995 after he made a blockbuster trade for Alex Mogilny, who wore No. 89 throughout his career.
Bure seized No. 96 before the 1995-96 season, promptly blew out his ACL, struggled to score upon his return from injury the following season and quietly went back No. 10 in 1997. No Canuck has worn No. 96 since then.
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