Hockey world will miss Luongo’s personality

Dan Murphy reports from Florida where former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo prepares to face his former teammates.

When the Vancouver Canucks traded Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers the day before the deadline they didn’t just lose a great goaltender, they also lost a big-time personality from their dressing room.

Luongo was a character. And that is one of the things I am going to miss most.

My fear now that Luongo has moved back to Florida is that fans of the league have lost him too. Sure they’ll see highlights and the odd funny tweet, but it won’t be the same.

Since hockey is covered 24/7/365 in Vancouver — like all Canadian markets — Luongo was always front and centre. And lets be honest, he provided a lot of great story lines over the years.

Vancouver fans always wanted to hear from him, and they weren’t alone. From the time Luongo arrived in Vancouver there were always three “must gets” when the doors opened to the dressing room. The captain (Naslund/Henrik), Kevin Bieksa and Luongo. However, if you only had time for one, then Luongo it was.

Why? Because Luongo was often compelling television, especially in the post-season. In the playoffs, good or bad, Luongo was must-see TV, and we’re not just talking in Vancouver.

I remember him exhausted after the double-overtime season-ending loss to the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

In 2009 he began to cry and had to leave the scrum when the Canucks fell to the Blackhawks and was called a baby for that.

Then in 2010 he tried to make a joke after those same Blackhawks ended the Canucks season again. This time he was shredded for not taking things serious enough.

2011 will be remembered for many things, but rightly or wrongly, the pumping tires comment will always get the most play.

But after the heartbreak of that year, Luongo’s personality really began to shine. There was a humility to it that really hadn’t been on display for all to see before. His humour was met with laughs instead of raised eyebrows.

You didn’t see him sulk or snap like he had been known to in the past. There was no hint of cockiness. Gone was the trademark “buds” to any reporter whose question he didn’t appreciate. Luongo managed to handle many a tough question and situation with honesty, class and humour. Something that surely isn’t easy to do.

It can also be said that watching Luongo do it was a great lesson for Cory Schneider and Eddie Lack. Both of those guys took their cues from Luongo and are now capable of dealing with the media deftly.

During his tenure in Vancouver, Luongo was always available. Practice days, game days, Post-game. We had tons of access to him and that’s not the way it is with many starting goalies in the NHL. A lot do not talk on game days. Luongo always did.

He never hid from the media, even when I’m sure there were many days he would have liked to. The only time I can remember him not showing up post-game was after a home-ice shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some said he was getting fluids, others figured he was just pissed off, but it’s remarkable that I can single out the one time he didn’t have a scrum when he should have.

There were times when surely he didn’t need to speak, like when the deadline came and went in 2013 without a trade. Surely he believed he was gone and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He was extremely upset. And yet moments later there he was at the podium, raw and emotional, delivering what was the sound bite of the day.

The man was always available and accountable and, like him or hate him, you have to respect him for that.

I hope Luongo moving back to Florida doesn’t mean he’ll just be riding off into the sunset. I hope the guy everybody got to know over the last few years continues to make us marvel at his endless work habits and continues to make us laugh via twitter.

The NHL is a far more interesting place with Roberto Luongo in it. Let’s just hope we don’t lose sight of him all the way down in Sunrise.

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