Luongo’s competitiveness and longevity earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame
Roberto Luongo he said he gets chills every time he watches the replay.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Canada went to overtime against the United States in the gold medal game. Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal in a 3-2 win.
“It was probably the peak of my career,” Luongo said. “In the moment of the most pressure imaginable, to be able to come out and win like that, I think it’s crazy.”
However, it does rewind the video a few seconds.
America forward Joe Pavelski intercepted the puck in the right faceoff circle in Canada’s zone. In a split second, he turned and fired. If the puck had gone in, he would have scored the golden goal, not Crosby. The United States would have upset Canada, in Canada.
Luongo was in net. Caught off guard, he got his elbow on the shot. The puck fell in front of him as the fans shouted, “Lu!” He was about to freeze it when he heard defenseman Scott Niedermayer call for it. He slid it into Niedermayer, starting the sequence everyone remembers.
“Sometimes I wonder if I ended up freezing that record if things would have been different,” Luongo said.
It’s time to appreciate Luongo’s impact on hockey history. He will be inducted into the Toronto Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday with Daniel Alfredsson, Riikka Sallinen and two Vancouver Canucks teammates, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. The late Herb Carnegie will be included in the Builders category.
Luongo ranks second in games played (1,044) among NHL goaltenders behind Martin Brodeur (1,266), and fourth in wins (489) behind Brodeur (691), Patrick Roy (551) and Marc-Andre Fleury (525). He is ninth in whites (77). Among those with at least 250 games played, he is tied for sixth in save percentage (.919) with Andrey Vasilevsky.
He is first in wins (252) and shutouts (38) with the Canucks, and first in wins (230) and shutouts (38) with the Florida Panthers. Another goaltender has 200 wins with two teams: Roy, with the Montreal Canadiens (289) and Colorado Avalanche (262).
Competitive and self-deprecating, Luongo was never satisfied. It’s not yet.
He won Olympic gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014, and he and Cory Schneider shared the Jennings Trophy in 2010-11, when the Canucks allowed the fewest goals (180) in the NHL.
But Luongo said he never won the Stanley Cup or the Vezina Trophy, despite coming very close to each.
The Canucks went to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Boston Bruins, in between winning the Presidents Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team twice.
On three occasions, Luongo was a finalist for the Vezina Award, which goes to the NHL’s best goaltender as voted by the general managers.
In 2006-07, he was runner-up to Brodeur for the Vezina and to Crosby for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s most valuable player as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
“It takes a lot of time and dedication and hard work, and I feel like that’s what I’ve done my whole life, try to stay on top of my game and try to be the best goaltender in the league every year,” Luongo. said “I know it didn’t work out that way most of the time, but that was my goal every year: to win the Cup and be the best goalkeeper in La Liga. That’s what motivated me.”
In the end, Luongo’s combination of longevity and excellence is nearly unmatched.
“To be able to play at this level for so many years,” Luongo said, “is what I’m most proud of.”
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Luongo grew up four blocks from where Brodeur did in Saint-Leonard, a city that became part of Montreal in 2002. He played street hockey but didn’t skate for the first time until age 8, late for a child in Canada. He couldn’t even stand on the ice.
“I remember I was crying,” she said. “It was a tough day.”
At first he played forward, although his hero was a goalkeeper, Grant Fuhr. His parents wanted him to exercise, and they thought the goalies, well, no. At age 11 or 12, he was pulled from a travel team, and when his home team’s goalie got sick, his mother relented and let him in net.
“I had a clean sheet in that game and I never came back,” he said.
At 15, Luongo played for Montreal-Bourassa, the same team that produced NHL goaltenders like Brodeur, Felix Potvin and Stephane Fiset. Legendary goalkeeping guru Francois Allaire saw him for the first time. Although not yet his eventual 6-foot-3, 215-pound self, Luongo was already big in net.
“He was doing a lot of things like a little kid,” said Allaire, who would continue to work with Luongo for much of his career. “But you could see his size, and his butterfly was very wide. His glove was already one of his marks.”
Luongo was selected by the New York Islanders with the No. 4 pick in the 1997 NHL Draft. He was the first goaltender selected in the top five since the Montreal Canadiens selected Michel Plasse with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft of 1968.
Luongo dealt with the highest expectations throughout his career, both externally and internally.
“Roberto was nervous,” Allaire said. “He was nervous even in preseason games. He wants to be good. He wants to show his teammates that he’s No. 1. He’s the guy who wants to win for his team. That’s something within his personality.”
After one season with the Islanders and five with the Panthers, Luongo peaked with the Canucks from 2006-14.
Former Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said Luongo was probably the team’s most competitive player when he arrived.
“He was so good, I honestly don’t think they were scored on in practice the first two years,” Bieksa said. “You couldn’t score on him because he worried about every shot.”
Luongo was the captain of the Canucks from 2008-10. He is the only goaltender to serve as a captain in the NHL since Bill Durnan did so with the Canadiens in 1947-48.
“A lot of goalies are sometimes afraid to play, but this guy, I played with him in the Olympics,” said Brodeur, who lost Canada’s No. 1 job to Luongo in 2010. “I wanted to take the net out. and he finally did. That’s the reason you’re so good for so long, because you’re a competitor and you want to be there. You don’t run away from anything.”
Over time, perhaps as a pressure valve, Luongo showed more of his funny, self-deprecating side. His quick wit made him a star on Twitter. But his competitive fire still burned.
“He could strike a balance between keeping it loose and being focused, and I think that’s a strength as well,” Daniel Sedin said. “You can’t always be loose and have fun and joke around. There comes a time when you have to step up and be focused, and I think he was an expert at that.”
After the Canucks traded Luongo back to the Panthers, it didn’t cost him from 2014 to 2019. He wanted to do what he hadn’t done in his first stint with them: reach the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Panthers did it in 2015-16, when, at age 36, he finished fourth for the Vezina.
“A lot of people thought I was just going to retire again,” Luongo said. “Obviously these are people who don’t know me personally, and it’s not me.”
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Luongo’s legacy transcends his playing career.
Before making 33 saves in a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on February 22, 2018, Luongo gave a speech. It was the Panthers’ first home game after 17 people died in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“It’s probably one of the biggest moments of not only my career, but my life,” Luongo said. “I actually feel a little overwhelmed just talking about it.”
Luongo lives in Parkland with his wife, Gina; daughter, Gabriella, 14; and his son, Gianni, 11 years old. With his No. 1 now in the rafters, he works as a special advisor to Panthers general manager Bill Zito. His competitive fire still burns. He said he might want to be a GM himself one day, when his kids are grown and he can handle the demands.
“On game days, I still get the same emotions as when I was playing,” Luongo said. “I still feel like I have skin in the game. It’s been great.”
Zito is excited about Luongo overseeing the Panthers’ goaltending excellence department, with Allaire as a consultant, and contributing in other areas. Zito uses words like “brilliant,” “kind” and “kind,” calling him “the character you want your child to grow up to be like.” He said he finds himself trying harder because he doesn’t want to let Luongo down.
“If you want to put him in the Hall of Fame as a hockey player, great,” Zito said. “If there’s a Hall of Fame for people, he’ll go there too.”
NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report
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