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NHL star Pavel Bure founds hockey legends league

Courtesy Håkan Dahlström

Courtesy Håkan Dahlström

Sonny Sachdeva, September 3 2015 —

The main allure of professional hockey is grounded in the awe-inspiring performance of the game’s premier talents.

While the majority of the NHL’s participants continue at a standard level, there are always a handful of stars who establish themselves in a class of their own. But even these historic contributors have only a small window to make their mark on the sport. Regardless of their elite skill, there comes a time when they are unable to match the speed and the physicality of their younger counterparts. Now the stars who wish to remain in the game will have another option.

Former NHL great Pavel Bure is pushing for the creation of an international league comprised only of former hockey legends — dubbed the World Legends Hockey League (WLHL) — to allow these former top-end talents to get back on the ice and compete in an environment that won’t come with the same grind and competitive edge as the sport’s top professional leagues.

Bure is no stranger to the transition from top-tier star to elder statesman. The Russian winger suited up for 12 seasons with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers. He twice won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer (in 2000 and 2001), while being named to the All-Star team seven times. His elite performance earned him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame after a series of knee surgeries prompted his retirement in 2005.

While the wear and tear of playing at the sport’s highest level for over a decade makes it impossible for Bure to compete in any true professional league, the talented sniper believes he still has enough skill to play the game at an impressive enough level to draw crowds. He also knows that other former greats are in the same position.

There certainly does seem to be some interest in watching NHL legends suit up and test their skills. The league’s marquee annual outdoor event, the Winter Classic, regularly features some form of this type of competition, pitting former stars of the competing teams against one another in an alumni game.

Fans have clamoured to see these alumni games, savouring the nostalgia that comes from watching classic rivalries catch fire once again.

Bure’s proposal has been met with widespread approval. International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel offered his organization’s support. A preliminary schedule has been set. The league will consist of six teams with franchises representing Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Germany. To participate, players must be over 45 years old and must have competed in an IIHF competition.

An initial match-up has already been scheduled — Team Finland will take on Team Sweden in Lappeenranta, Finland in November. Germany and Russia will face off in November, followed by the Czech Republic and Slovakia, all before the official season begins in October. While there are no North American players included in the league’s plans yet, it’s likely Canada and the United States will be given teams in the future if the league finds success in its inaugural season.

The WLHL is also expected to invite many of the North American greats to help kick off the league’s season with an All-Star game in October — wherein Team Russia will take on a squad comprised of former stars from the rest of the world.

While the WLHL is unlikely to have the same appeal as the sport’s top leagues, the prospect of seeing former All-Stars take the ice once again is an enticing one. Though Canadians have dominated the NHL’s all-time scoring list, there remains a notable group of impressive European talents who have earned their place in hockey history — including scorers like Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne and Jarri Kurri.

Should Bure’s league take off as he hopes, hockey fans will have a chance to see these stars suit up once more, showcasing the skills that placed them atop the hockey world in their prime.

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