Valeri Bure's english is better than his brother's, and Pavel thinks he knows why. "My mother and father are in Vancouver with me," Pavel says. "When Valeri leaves rink, no one speaks Russian to him."
But 18-year-old Valeri, a 5'10", 160-pound sprite of a right wing for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, is also more outgoing than his older brother. And he possesses a bright-eyed curiosity that serves him well in his new life in North America. He buys cassettes and reads the lyrics while the music plays. He is not afraid to ask a dumb question, such as during our recent visit with him after a Chief practice. "Sport Illustrate, huh?" bubbled Bure. "Those swimming suit ladies damn great chicks! They look that good in real person?"
Forward Paxton Schulte, Valeri's best friend among the Chiefs, sighs when told that story. "He's out of control," says Schulte. Earlier in the season Valeri was a passenger in Schulte's pickup truck. "We stopped at a light next to a car with a nice-looking girl in it," says Schulte. "He's waving at her, whistling at her, she's smiling back. But there are three guys in the car with her. Valeri's making eyes at her while they're looking like they want to fight. Burrsie's still got a lot to learn."
Burrsie? Valeri's first request of coach Bryan Maxwell when he joined the Chiefs last year was "Don't call me Valeri." North Americans mispronounce his name (Val-AIR-ee is the proper pronunciation), he complains, so that it sounds like a girl's name. Maxwell suggested that he be called Burr, which Bure's teammates quickly lengthened to Burrsie. Burrsie got off to a fast start and finished the season with 27 goals in 53 regular-season games before adding 11 in 10 playoff games.
The Montreal Canadiens, who made Bure their second-round draft pick in June, wanted to sign him after last season. Valeri and his father, Vladimir, were sorely tempted, but Valeri's agent, Ron Salcer, whose friendship with Chief owner Bobby Brett had led to Bure's landing in Spokane, urged them to hold back. "You can always get second-round money," Salcer told them. The Bures decided Valeri should get another year's seasoning in the WHL.
That decision could prove expensive for the Canadiens. Valeri's 23 goals and 58 points through 26 games at week's end were among the best in the WHL. Will he make it in the NHL? "I don't believe in potential, I believe in ability, and this kid has more than enough ability," says Maxwell.
He also has the ability to take some good-natured barbs from his teammates. According to Schulte, the Chiefs' favorite put-down is "Hey, Burrsie, your mother wears Red Army boots." But, says Schulte, Bure dishes it out too. "Last year he had the nerve to skate up to me and say, 'Stick with mc and you'll go far.' The annoying part of it is, he's probably right."