Luongo responds to rumours with wit, class

In the perfect storm that is the Roberto Luongo rumour mill, No. 1 is the eye — unblinking but winking when you’re not looking.

As NHL fans — particularly those in Canada’s two largest hockey markets — click refresh on their hockey-rumour websites in anticipation of how this marathon hand will play out, the man in the middle of the clatter is all poker face when you try to stare him down, all chirpy jokes when you leave the room to go get more Cheez-Its.

It’s almost as if, dare we say it, he’s good under pressure.

The 33-year-old goaltender has never been more likable. Except for maybe, y’know, that time when he backstopped Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal on home ice and an entire nation jumped around its living room like a two-year-old on a sugar high.

If you don’t want Luongo on your team (for a reasonable, non-Jake Gardiner price, of course), then you don’t like statistics or laughing.

And you certainly don’t read the Twitter posts of @Strombone1, the unverified Twitter account of Luongo that is verifiably hilarious.

In the past week, when the Lu-mour mill has been at its blusterous, he has managed to outwit star athletes turned tweeters Jose Canseco and the Iron Sheik (see below) and make good on interview requests.

Imagine five months ago you skated off the ice, after two consecutive seasons in which your team could seemingly beat everyone except the Stanley Cup champions, and directly onto the trading block. And five months later, you’re still there: the top trade target, soon to be property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks, or, hey, the Philadelphia Flyers. Or some other team entirely. Or you slow-play your fate as the world’s most handsomely paid backup goaltender for a while.

Imagine if your paycheques (bigger and juicier than most) stopped coming. Imagine if, when that labour mess was settled, a rule that tries to punish teams that dared to exploit the commissioner’s old loopholes by signing star players to long-term, front-loaded deals was put in place — and that caluse was nicknamed after (“The Luongo Rule”) you before the new CBA was even ratified. Imagine if your name was suddenly flung out there as the reason a good hockey man in another conference lost his job, even though that man had failed to make the playoffs in four years.

Would you be able to speak comfortably with the press every day? Fly back and join a team that once coveted your services, a team you brought to Game 7 of the Cup final but no longer desires your services? Practice with them two days before training camp even opens? Be supportive to a good friend, one whom you helped mentor, as he gobbles up your ice time?

You probably could, given the wheelbarrows of cash they have promised you through to 2022. But you probably couldn’t do it with the class and wit of Luongo.

“I’m happy,” Luongo told Sportsnet after he landed in Vancouver Thursday for training camp. “I’m not too worried about it. I’m not too stressed about it, no matter where I am, whether that’s here or somewhere else. Until it comes from Mike (Gillis, the Canucks general manager), you kinda let it go.”

While saying this, he looked unflappable — a desirable trait for both his profession and his hobby.

Luongo finished an impressive 634th out of 6,598 card sharks that competed in last summer’s World Series of Poker in Vancouver. He earned $19,277 for his efforts, a tidy sum he presumably spent on Photoshop lessons.

He spends much of his off-time playing Texas hold ’em online, and you have to wonder if the pressures of that game have helped his approach to this professional uncertainty.

Although Luongo does have a card to play (no-trade clause), so much more depends on what’s flopped out before him and the other decision-makers at the table.

Despite lingering in hockey limbo for longer than Rick Nash, Luongo has appeared — at least on the outside — calm and confident in his ability to react.

Like any great goaltender. Or poker player. Or comedian.

Luongo’s recent Twitter hits:

Strombone vs. Canseco

Strombone vs. Iron Sheik

Strombone vs. The Lockout

Strombone vs. Rex Ryan’s tattoo

Strombone vs. 2013

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