'Huge part of my life:' Luongo reflects as Canucks add goaltender to Ring of Honour

Luongo spent parts of eight seasons with the Canadian franchise after being acquired in 2006 as part of a package deal with the Florida Panthers.

'Huge part of my life:' Luongo reflects as Canucks add goaltender to Ring of Honour

VANCOUVER — Roberto Luongo says his time with the Vancouver Canucks was career-defining.

Luongo spent parts of eight seasons with the Canadian franchise after being acquired in 2006 as part of a package deal with the Florida Panthers.

"It was the most important stretch of my career," he said during a Thursday morning media availability. "It was when I was in my prime. We had a great team, we were in the playoffs, we made a run to the cup. I played in the Olympics in this city.

"It's a huge, huge part of my life, always will be."

He added to that after his name and image were enshrined on the Canucks' Ring of Honour at Rogers Arena on Thursday night ahead of a game against the Panthers.

"Every single great memory I had, happened on this ice right here," he said during his induction speech.

His children called his name as former teammates Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Cory Schneider welcomed him onto the ice.

Luongo paid tribute to his former team and their current success.

"Hockey is fun again in Vancouver," he said. "This is the way it's supposed to be."

Fans cheered with choruses of "Lou" throughout Luongo's speech and while he performed the ceremonial faceoff between goalies Thatcher Demko and Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky.

Luongo retired in 2019, joined the Panthers' front office, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year as a first-ballot inductee.

He helped lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the series. Additionally, he backstopped Canada to a gold medal in the Canucks' home arena during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I only remember the last play. I watch it all the time," he said of Sidney Crosby's golden goal in the 3-2 overtime win over the United States. "When the goal happened, there was so much pressure at that moment, given it was the Olympics in Vancouver … (and) Team Canada. I felt such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders."

There were ups and downs to Luongo's time in Vancouver, from becoming the first goaltender to serve as an NHL team captain since Bill Durnan in the 1947—48 season and Olympic success, to Stanley Cup heartbreak and his infamous "my contract sucks" moment.

The contract comment was uttered in 2014 after trade talks between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver broke down, after then-head coach John Tortorella had decided to split netminding duties between Luongo and backup Eddie Lack.

Luongo then spoke to media about the burden of his 12-year, $64-million contract which served to scuttle potential trades.

"Fifteen minutes before I came out, found out I wasn't getting traded to Toronto," he said Thursday. "I was a little bit emotional at the time and didn't have time to regroup.

"Obviously, the contract didn't suck, but for certain reasons it did. I remember being so emotional in that very moment because of what had transpired 15 minutes prior and I wish I would've had a few more minutes to gather myself before I went out there."

The Montreal native now works for the Panthers as the special adviser to the general manager and oversees the team's goaltending department.

He joins a cast of former Vancouver teammates who now work in some capacity around the league. Forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin have front-office jobs with the Canucks, Manny Malhotra is an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs while Alex Burrows has a similar role with the Montreal Canadiens, and defenceman Kevin Bieksa is an analyst with Hockey Night in Canada.

"It's amazing. It was a special group. Guys genuinely loved each other, cared for each other, teased each other all the time," Luongo said, adding he remembers countless Ping-Pong tournaments and card games on flights.

"It was a really tight group and the fact you see them sprinkled around the league is fun because I get to see them."

The ex-goaltender could have chosen to go on the NHL's long-term injured reserve instead of retiring in 2019 to get the remainder of his salary, but decided he wanted to go out on his own terms. A feature, he said, that defined his time with the Canucks.

"When I played, I always wanted to be the best. Didn't matter what year it was, whether it was my rookie year or even my last year when I was 40 years old. I was always striving to be the best goalie in the league, that's the way I was built," he said about looking back on his career.

"I'm glad that it is getting recognized, this city holds a special place for me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press