Igor Larionov is called The Professor for good reason.
The former Vancouver Canucks centre not only looks the part, the respected Russian has always been a student of the game and excelled at his chosen craft with class and dignity.
He won three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and continues to shape young minds as a player agent.
Larionov represents Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, who were selected first and third overall, respectively, in the 2012 NHL draft, and is an astute judge of talent. His prize pupil was former teammate Pavel Bure.
As The Great Debate rages as to whether Bure should have his number retired by the Canucks to join Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl in the Rogers Arena rafters, it’s not surprising that his former linemate believes that sheer electricity and notable numbers should account for the highest franchise admiration.
On Monday, Bure gave his acceptance speech in Toronto after being officially welcomed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, Larionov gave his take on whether a Calder Trophy, back-to-back 60-goal seasons and helping carry the Canucks to within a win of a Stanley Cup championship merit a jersey retirement, despite Bure’s contract-status circus and eventual trade from Vancouver.
“For his accomplishments here and for his dedication to the game in bringing so much fun and joy to the city in his playing days, I think he should be up there — no doubt,” said Larionov, a 1972 Canada-Russia Super Series star and special guest for Game 5 in the CHL’s version of the clash of hockey titans to be played Wednesday at the Pacific Coliseum.
“When you decide to retire a jersey, it’s a decision by the management and there have been a few guys buying and selling the team, and with new management, I know they’re talking about that.
“It would be nice to have his No. 10 up in the rafters to be recognized as one of the greatest in Vancouver.”
Nice is an interesting take. In this market, that can be applied to the manner in which captains Naslund, Linden and Smyl became fixtures in the community and worked tirelessly to support various charities.
It was nice to see them combine that devotion with their on-ice excellence. And there’s the rub. The criteria for a jersey retirement varies from team to team, and being a good person can be as important as being a great player.
“Pavel is a good guy, a great guy,” added Larionov.
“Sometimes, he keeps everything to himself but in general he’s very honest. As player, he’s always been there when the team needs him. Every night when he stepped on the ice, something was going to happen. It was like people were coming to watch a great actor.”
Larionov first met Bure when the phenom was 16 and being schooled in the strict Red Army hockey system. With four years of high-end training, it was still amazing that a player from a different culture could adapt so quickly to the North American game with 34 goals and 60 points in 65 games during his rookie season.