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Pavel Bure: The Russian Rocket

By Jesse Monteaduo

pburre7.jpg - 13.05 K Ice hockey is our most macho sport. Brian Pronger, in The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex, lists hockey, along with boxing and American football, as one of the "most masculine" and "violent" sports. "Hockey, as Gordie Howe said, is 'a man's game.'

Violence and fighting constitute major attractions to the game, for it is in violence that masculinity shines. 'In a game in which every man's mettle is constantly being probed, the ability to fight is as basic as the ability to skate. That's why so many hockey players train with punching bags.'"

The recently-retired Wayne Gretzky is an exception to the rule; according to Pronger, Gretzky "has proved that fighting need not characterize excellent hockey playing; when there is a fight he skates away."

Most of his colleagues are not so reticent. Indeed, hardly a game goes by where a player is not injured; not from accidents but from fights among the players. Pronger agrees:

"[A]thletic competence is actually a secondary feature of hockey, especially in the NHL [National Hockey League] - the real appeal lies in its significance as a 'man's game.' The masculine aesthetic of hockey becomes almost sacramental through its violence and bloodshed.

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'The cold adds a subtle coloration to the violence that is one of the sport's special treats. There is an undeniable frisson to the sight of blood on ice --the spilling of the very warm onto the very cold, perhaps --that not even football can match.'"

With all the testosterone that flows, it's no surprise that professional hockey is one of the sports least likely to attract gay athletes or spectators.

pbure1.jpg - 5.25 K Though gay hockey players exist, they remain deeply closeted. And most gay men (myself included) would rather be caught dead than at a hockey game. On the other hand, hockey has attracted a small but vocal minority of gay fans; some attracted by the sport itself, others by its aura of masculinity and still others by the players' sexiness.

While doing research for this article on the Web, I found several "Cute Hockey Players" sites - clearly labors of love - in which the players' physiques were more important than their performance. I even found a highly "fictional" account of locker room activity after an NHL All-Star game, one gay fan's creative "tribute" to his eroticized idols.

Undoubtedly the gay hockey fan's favorite NHL star is Right Wing Pavel Bure, formerly with the Vancouver Canucks and now #10 with the Florida Panthers.

Though an excellent player, the Russian Rocket's queer fans seem to be more interested in his looks than in his prowess on the ice. "Bure's full, red lips, perfect cheekbones, pale green eyes, and spectacular physique give him an exotic, androgynous appeal," gushed sportswriter Mike Ulmer. "He is to die for and has been since he arrived, in Canada, burst into Vancouver, and claimed the National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year honours in 1992."

pburre6.jpg - 11.94 K A series of articles by Daniel Gawthrop, Ulmer continued, "exposed Bure as a hunk of burning hockey love among gay as well as straight fans" and compared Bure's lips to "rose petals" Pavel's gay groupies agreed, exposing the Rocket's "rose petal" lips - and other parts of his anatomy - in various Web sites ( is the "official" site).

Bure modestly dismisses all this attention from love-struck gays, simply noting that "I don't think they thought I was the most incredible guy in the world." Nor is Bure bothered that a bunch of faggots pant after his body:

"If people like you and treat you with respect, that's great. That's how I treat them", he added. (I must point out that Bure is single; and that his sexual orientation - whatever it might be - remains a heated topic on and off the Web.)

Pavel Bure was born in Moscow, Russia, on March 31, 1971, part of an athletic family. His father, Vladimir, was an Olympic swimmer who competed (unsuccessfully) against Mark Spitz in 1972, and his younger brother, Valeri, plays for the Calgary Flames. Pavel began his career as a member of the Soviet Red Army team, which he joined at the tender age of 16.

After a successful career with the Soviet National League, Bure was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, where he soon won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year for 1991-92.

Perhaps the fastest skater in the NHL, Bure is also a skilled skater, a good shooter, and a "premiere" stick handler. Bure used these skills to make him, in the 1993-94 season, only the eighth player in NHL history to record at least two 60-goal seasons, joining the great Gretzky, and helped his team reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994.

pbure9.jpg - 5.52 K For most of his seven years with the Canucks, Bure was that team's Most Exciting Player, a title which surely had a different meaning to his gay fans. On the international level, the Rocket led the Motherland to a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The owner of a large collection of Russian movies and books, Bure spends his summers in Moscow and Southern California.

In 1998, Bure "soured" on the Canucks and "demanded" a trade. He was traded from Vancouver to Florida on January 17, 1999, along with other draft choices. No sooner did Bure arrive in Miami that the Russian Rocket was dubbed a certified crowd pleaser.

"[Bure's] a goal-scorer and a point-producer," said Panthers Vice President and General Manager Bryan Murray, to reporter Jon Kramer. "He's exciting, fast, an entertaining hockey player. I like everything about him."

Bure scored seven goals and one assist in his first five games with Florida, giving the Panthers a much-needed boost. "He brings a status to our hockey club that we didn't have before," beamed Murray. "He's the guy we can revolve our team around for the next several years."

pburre4.jpg - 20.18 K For his part, Bure was thrilled to be with the Panthers: "Even though it's a young team, they went to the [Stanley Cup] Final already and that's saying a lot . . . It's saying that the organization knows how to treat people, how to treat players, and they know, most importantly, how to win."

Among Pavel's contributions to the Florida Panthers is the opportunity he gives that team to attract gay men. Such potential makes Declan Bolger, the Panthers' Vice-President of Marketing, "positively giddy", according to Mike Ulmer.

"Have we targeted gay men? . . . No. Would we turn them away? . . . No. We haven't said no to anyone." Bolger, Ulmer tells us, "has worked to make the Panthers sexy and Bure will get the same treatment."

At the same time, Bolger added, "We don't want to promote Pavel as a handsome man on ice . . . He's a hockey player who happens to look very good."

As part of my research for this article, I planned to watch Pavel at play by attending a Panthers home game at their new arena, the National Car Rental Service in Sunrise.

Unfortunately, after signing with the Panthers to a five-year contract, Bure injured his right knee, tearing a ligament while playing the Colorado Avalanche (March 3) Though Bure underwent a successful reconstructive surgery on March 29, his injury kept him from playing for the rest of the season.

Happily for Pavel and the Panthers, our hero is enjoying a swift recovery, already walking without crutches two weeks after knee reconstruction. "All I can do is get ready for a brand new season. . . . I want to be back in time for training camp and the exhibition games." Bure's fans - both straight and gay - will be waiting.

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