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Outdoor game benching was last straw in Vancouver: Luongo


Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo warms up off ice during practice the day before the Heritage Classic hockey game against the Ottawa Senators at BC Place on March 1, 2014. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports)

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo warms up off ice during practice the day before the Heritage Classic hockey game against the Ottawa Senators at BC Place on March 1, 2014. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports)


Roberto Luongo looks back fondly on his time in Vancouver, but wonders if that stint would have continued had he started his last game wearing a Canuck jersey.

Luongo was benched in favour of Eddie Lack for the Heritage Classic against the Ottawa Senators last March, and was traded to the Florida Panthers two days later.

“There’s no hiding it, I did want to play that game. That goes without saying,” Luongo said Tuesday. “And If I would have played, I’d maybe still be here, who knows?

Luongo is back in Vancouver to play at Rogers Arena for the first time since that trade – his Panthers will be taking on the Canucks Thursday night – and told reporters after Florida's afternoon practice that he's had this trip to B.C. highlighted on his calendar for a while.

“I’ve really been looking forward to coming here, spending these few days practising, seeing the guys, the trainers,” he said. “When the trade happened, it happened in a rush and we were on the road, so I didn’t really get a chance to properly say goodbye to everybody.”

Luongo backstopped the Canucks during the most successful run in the franchise’s history, helping the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, two Presidents’ Trophies and six playoff appearances over parts of eight seasons. He left as the Canucks’ all-time leader in wins (233) and shutouts (35).

“Obviously the two most memorable moments were going to the Stanley Cup – that whole run, beating Chicago in OT Game 7, getting to the final against Boston – and obviously the gold medal game of the Olympics,” said the 35-year-old.

“The positives definitely outweigh the few negatives that happened.”

But for all of the success on the ice during his time in Vancouver, off-ice drama constantly swirled around the netminder. Most notably, the battle for playing time with Cory Schneider left both goalies unhappy and ultimately led to both being traded out of town.

“There was a point in time over a year, year-and-a-half period I had given up on it,” Luongo said when asked about the lengthy saga that unfolded after his trade demands were widely reported.

“I was just trying to focus on playing here and see what came up as far as teams and trades. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason, and I guess that’s just the way it had to work out.”

However, Luongo became a fan favourite in his later years with the Canucks, thanks in large part to his self-deprecating Twitter humour, showing a different side of his personality.

A side that the Montreal native said he’s glad fans got to see before he left Vancouver.

“The way I would handle certain things … whether with the media or the fans or whatever, I think I kind of figured that whole thing out towards the tail end of my stay here,” he said.

“Just my whole perspective on a lot of stuff has changed over the last couple years and the way I handle things. I just try to have as much fun as I can out there, realizing that I’m 35 now, so I just want to have fun, play hard and do the best I can.”

Luongo added: “I’m happy that people were able to see who I really am and the way I am away from the cameras and around the guys and that kind of stuff. It did feel good for people to finally see what kind of person I am.”

The long-time Canuck is enjoying a solid season with the Panthers, arguably the team’s MVP as Florida has stayed in the thick of a playoff race.

Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Panthers sat two points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, while Luongo has amassed a record of 15-7-7 to go alongside save percentage (.924) and goals-against average (2.28) numbers that are among the NHL’s best.

“Bringing this team to the playoffs is a goal that I had set at the beginning of the year,” he said. “Obviously there’s a long way to go, but we’re heading in the right direction, so that’s what it’s all about. I’m just excited that we have a good team, we’re competing every night, and good things are going to happen here.”

Since the Canucks made a late-season visit to Florida last year, Luongo said “it helps a little bit” that he’s already played his former teammates once before Thursday’s game at Rogers Arena.

As for the reception from Canucks fans?

Luongo isn’t sure how he’ll be welcomed on Thursday, and joked that he might not be able to gauge their sentiment anyhow.

“‘Lus’ and ‘boos,’ they all sound the same, so I won’t be able to tell the difference,” he laughed.

“I don’t know. Hopefully a good one. That’s not up to me, but either way I just want to enjoy the game.”

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