Hockey

Tim Wharnsby - Monday Oct. 14, 2013 12:04 ET

Roberto Luongo looks for rebound season in 'fresh start' with Vancouver

Canucks goalie still one of Canada's best contenders to start in Sochi, despite struggles

Luongo-goalie-profile-cp-0499659-hayward
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo seems far removed from the 2010 Olympic gold. But he remains one of Canada's best goaltending options for Sochi. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

So much has gone wrong for Roberto Luongo lately that it’s easy to forget about the joyous Olympic gold moment, that he was a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist and that he was among the game’s elite goalkeepers not that long ago.

But the career of the Vancouver Canucks veteran has hit too many potholes in the past 18 months. His saga took another bizarre turn on Saturday evening, when his unchecked teammate Dan Hamhuis allowed a puck to slip off his stick while winding up on a power play. There was no recovery. The puck banked off Luongo’s skate and went in for one of the most bizarre goals in NHL history. 

The game was tied before that blooper occurred, but after that flukey goal, the Canucks never recovered and dropped a 4-1 loss against Carey Price and his Montreal Canadiens. 

Price is Luongo’s main competition to become Canada’s No. 1 goalie at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

“I didn’t give that one up, so I can't tell you,” Luongo replied when asked if he had ever surrendered such a strange goal.

Recent baggage

What makes Luongo such a compelling character is we want see what happens next to the 34-year-old goalie. He made a flippant remark in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, when Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas was coming off a tough Game 5.

“I have been pumping his tires ever since the series started,” Luongo said. “I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me.” But, in the end, it was Luongo’s ego that needed pumping up. After that remark he was badly outplayed by Thomas in the final two games of the Bruins championship run. 

He later admitted that he regretted his comment. The next time Luongo found himself in the postseason, the Canucks decided to replace him as No. 1 with Cory Schneider in the middle of the first-round series against the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings.

The Canucks were supposed to trade him after that scene. Luongo had a say because he had no-movement clause in his contract. But after more than a year trying to find a new address, it was apparent that other teams had soured on Luongo, too. There wasn’t anybody out there willing to take on the remaining nine years of his contract and annual $5.333-million salary cap hit. 

So the Canucks moved Schneider instead last June.

Luongo's Twitter account source of humour

All of sudden Luongo was No. 1 again, even though he had put up his $4.2-million penthouse condominium for sale and he had mentally checked out from the Lower Mainland.

“Given what’s happened over the last little while, it’s nice to get a fresh start here and know you’re No. 1 again and just play hockey,” Luongo said in training camp last month.

There is no doubt Luongo has matured late in his career. He handled the demotion with class initially and then a sense of humour.

“I think he’s matured even as an older player,” said his former teammate Mason Raymond, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “If anything I learned more about him in the last year because of what he had to go through with Cory. The way he handled it was as I could imagine anyone would. He enjoys the game and he just wants to win.”

Raymond and Luongo remain good friends. They text each other all the time. When Raymond returned to the dressing room a week ago after his spin-o-rama goal on Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson, there was a text waiting from Luongo. “What was that?” was the message. “I think the biggest thing about him is his sense of humour. He’s a funny, funny guy. He’s a fun guy to be around,” Raymond said.

Anybody who follows Luongo’s Twitter account, @Strombone1, would agree.

Youth success

There were early signs that the son of Pasqualina and Antonio was destined to be a goalie. He played on the same AAA midget team, Montreal-Bourassa, as New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and former Toronto Maple Leaf Felix Potvin. Luongo’s brothers Fabio and Leo also played in net.

Before he knew it, Luongo was brilliant for Canada in the second-place showing at the 1999 world juniors to the Sedin twins and Sweden. The New York Islanders drafted him fourth overall in 1997 and he won his NHL debut with a 43-save performance in a 2-1 win over the Bruins in November 1999.

He doesn’t have the best technique nor is he the most athletic goalie, but he's not the worst in those areas either. He also has size. When he spreads out in his butterfly, there isn’t much room for pucks to squirt by his 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame.

He’s won world championships with Canada in 2003 and 2004 and always given his team a chance for victory.

However, there have been more lows than highs lately for Luongo and we can’t wait to see what’s in story next for the Canucks goalie.

Canadian goalie rankings

Each week we rank the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) – He has been excellent so far with a 4-0-0 record for a Penguins team that will be without goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) until the New Year. 

2. Jonathan Bernier (Toronto) – Sure he’s an Olympic longshot, but how can you ignore his 4-1-0 start, .946 save percentage and 1.75 goals against average?

3. Carey Price (Montreal) – In a showdown against Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo on Saturday, Price was the much better goalie with a 39-save effort in a 4-1 win.

4. Mike Smith (Phoenix) – After back-to-back losses, the Coyotes goalie recorded consecutive wins on the road over Detroit and Carolina. 

5. Corey Crawford (Chicago) – The Stanley Cup champ was ordinary in his first three outings, but he enjoyed his best game of the season against Buffalo on Saturday.

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