It was never one thing with Roberto Luongo. It was everything.
Superlative saves. Bravado. Flamboyancy. Hard feelings. Disarming humour.
You name it and the former standout Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender brought it in spades. He entertained and enlightened the masses to earn his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame last year as a first-ballot inductee.
If the world is indeed a stage, then Luongo ranks as one of its great actors worthy of curtain calls. Another one is coming Thursday when the 44-year-old Montreal native will be added to the Ring of Honour at Rogers Arena.
And even that comes with debate about Luongo’s place in franchise history. Should he be worthy of a higher acknowledgment with a number retirement? Or, is this the right fit in a place where they always remember how you arrived and, more importantly, how you left?
“Interesting question — there are arguments for and against (number retirement),” former Canucks and retired goalie Cory Schneider told Postmedia News on Tuesday from his home in Fairfield, Conn. “He had one of the most successful runs in team history and memorable moments, and he checks off a lot of boxes.
“Maybe one wasn’t longevity. For me, when I think of players who are generational — which you don’t get very often — the Sedins, (Trevor) Linden, (Pavel) Bure and (Stan) Smyl — Roberto is right up there in the upper echelon of players in Vancouver.”
Schneider didn’t say yes or no to the number retirement. He won a Jennings Trophy with Luongo and has long lauded the compete level of his crease companion.
Eddie Lack went one better.
The fun-loving former Canucks’ stopper didn’t need much prodding to get into the Luongo debate. Should his number hang from the Rogers Arena rafters?
“Yeah, I think so,” the retired goalie turned real estate agent said Tuesday from Arizona. “For crying out loud, he was the goalie and he was the captain! That said everything. He carried that team for so many years and was the best player night-in-and-night-out.”
Luongo’s book of work can do the talking
Luongo was a forward at age eight and switched to goalie three years later after being cut in peewee. And in his first game he posted a shutout. It would lay the foundation to becoming the greatest stopper in Canucks history and a two-time Olympic and world championship gold medallist.
Luongo posted a pair of 40-win seasons, 72 saves in a legendary quadruple overtime victory in 2007 in his first post-season and backstopped Team Canada to 2010 Olympic gold in Vancouver. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist on three occasions and finished second to Sidney Crosby in voting for the 2007 Hart Trophy.
Upon his retirement in 2019, he was third in career wins with 489 and remains second in games played (1,044), shots faced (30,942) and saves (28,409).
However, there was also the inability to find his game in Boston during the seven-game 2011 Stanley Cup Final series’ setback. There was also the infamous Heritage Classic snub at B.C. Place and being accommodated by a trade request two days later and moved to the Florida Panthers.
“I’m proud of the longevity I had in the game and the level I played at for so long and that’s something I took a lot of pride in,” Luongo told Postmedia at the Hall of Fame weekend. “And even as I got older, I kept working on my game and was never satisfied and didn’t get stuck in my ways. That’s what kept me around for so long.
“Obviously, there are always regrets. I’m grateful for my time in Vancouver and with the mental side, I was able to become a better person by not always taking things so personally and making sure I allowed things to roll off my back.
“And all that was because of my time there and I wouldn’t want to change that.”
‘Maybe I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was’
When Luongo suggested his contract “sucked” and considered voiding it because of rendering him immovable in a possible trade, a Vancouver Province back page headline screamed a soap-opera response on Aug. 28, 2013: ‘Ya Done Being A Diva?’
Luongo playfully responded by Twitter: ‘Eat your heart out Mariah Carey.’
“I wish I would have handled myself a little bit better and maybe I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was,” admitted Luongo. “With the failures, you learn and you grow up. That’s what happened toward the end of my stint with the Canucks. It’s not on anybody else but me and, unfortunately, that’s something I have to live with.”
When Luongo retired in 2019, the Canucks were stung by a recapture penalty of US$3,033.206 million applied annually to their salary cap over the next three years. It was crippling and paying a player to not play always rubbed ownership the wrong way.
‘It’s easy to get distracted by all the noise’
Former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault often joked that he could flip a coin — and he actually did it during a media address — to determine his starter. His tandem of Luongo and Schneider was that good. It was funny, but both guys wanted and desired the cage.
It was Luongo’s net and then it was Schneider’s net and then ownership decided the US$9.3 million combined cap hit for the goalies was too steep. Schneider was dealt at the 2013 NHL Draft and Luongo was traded in 2014. Amid all the drama, Schneider, who now works as an NHL analyst, was appreciative of Luongo.
“He just gave me a huge appreciation for how hard it is to play the position and high level in the NHL, and being able to carry yourself and handle a market like Vancouver,” said Schneider. “It’s a blessing to play in a place like that where people care and are so rabid about the team. It’s so awesome.
“To withstand that and thrive in it is not easy. The level of competitiveness and work he had to put in to be really good was eye-opening. He showed me. He didn’t have to go out of his way to teach me and I just watched what he did. And that was a key for my career early.
“It’s how to handle yourself and your business in a place like that, where you get scrutinized and picked apart, and stay focused. It’s easy to get distracted by all the noise.
“Roberto got more comfortable in his own skin and really let his personality shine along with his talent. For me, to see that levity and self-deprecating humour was impressive. And it gave me a similar outlook.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously. Try to have fun with it and maintain a high level of integrity and play on the ice.”
‘Play the guy who was there forever. That’s on Torts’
As soon as a conversation with Lack turned to unforgettable days in the never-dull history of the Canucks, he knew the topic.
“I know where this is going,” he said with a laugh.
How could he not?
Mention the Heritage Classic in this market and it’s like troops amassing along the lines of a great debate. Should Luongo have started that infamous March 2, 2014, showcase at B.C. Place? What the heck was bombastic bench boss John Tortorella thinking?
It’s easier to remember the circus than the score in an odd Ottawa Senators’ 4-2 triumph in which Daniel Sedin suffered a hamstring injury on a heavy end-boards hit by Marc Methot. He would miss the next nine games.
It was theatre of the bizarre.
Tortorella was already on thin ice and rumours persisted out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Ryan Kesler wanted out. Choosing Lack over Luongo was rationalized by Lack being on a roll for a club that lost seven straight before the Olympics. Luongo somehow needed more rest after returning with a gold medal. Really?
“Torts obviously felt I gave the team a great chance to win,” recalled Lack. “But if I was the coach, it doesn’t matter if the young guy gives you a chance. It’s one special game. I would play the guy who was there forever and a Hall-of-Famer. That’s on Torts.
“Nowhere in my mind did I think I was going to start that game. You want the focus to be on the game. But the decision took everything away from that. It was who is going to be in net? I was just there to play a game.”
Lack got a chorus of boos every time he showed up on the big screen and the crowd kept chanting: “We want Lou!” Luongo sat stoically at the bench in a toque and opened and closed the bench gate. It wasn’t comical. It was sad.
“Everything happens for a reason,” added Lack. “Lou got out. Being Luongo in Vancouver at that time wasn’t the easiest thing.”
Luongo’s exit set Lack up to play more games before a crease transition to Jacob Markstrom and Ryan Miller made him expendable in a 2015 trade to the Carolina Hurricanes. But he will always remember Luongo.
‘He was the guy who forced me to grow up’
Lack was often ‘Eddie the Entertainer’ in the room and a constant laugh track. It rubbed some the wrong way, but Luongo took notice for all the right reasons.
“He taught me how to be pro and how to act around the room,” said Lack. “We had a lot of fun together. He was the guy who forced me to grow up.
“He was my kind of goalie. When you were in the room, you could joke around a bit. But when you were on the ice everything was 100 per cent focus.
“He taught me to separate the two in a good way. He’s a very funny and charismatic guy. I played with other goalies, like Henrik Lundqvist in the world championship, and he was, ‘Don’t talk to me on game day.’
“Lou was more my style.”
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