To be clear: Roberto Luongo is having too much fun playing hockey and has no plans to retire.
“I heard somewhere Danny’s a crossing guard now,” he joked Saturday morning outside the Florida Panthers dressing room at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. “So I want to keep playing!”
Saturday night, before the Panthers faced his old team, the Vancouver Canucks, the man otherwise known as Lou, will be honoured for playing 1,000 games in the National Hockey League.
He achieved the remarkable milestone last spring, while the Panthers were in the midst of a playoff chase. He asked the team to wait till this fall to honour him, not wanting to take focus away from his team’s playoff push. (They came up one point short, eliminated by a Philadelphia win on the final day of the season.)
When the schedule came out, there was an obvious game to hold the ceremony.
“I was happy it was going to be the two clubs I spent most of my career,” he said.
Luongo is just the third NHL goalie to play 1,000 games. He’s now played 1,002 and is 27 behind Patrick Roy. If all goes to plan this season, he’ll pass Roy and be only behind Martin Brodeur, who played 1,266 games between 1991 and 2015.
That total does seem out of reach, though assuming his health keeps up and with the way he’s still performing at a top level, even at age 39, Luongo could yet get there.
Still, that would take probably another five seasons.
“A lot of pizza and pasta,” he joked about the secret to his success in staying healthy for most of his career, though as he approaches 40, there have been more challenges due to injury.
“I’ve been blessed most of my career with (good) health,” Luongo said. But he also knows he’s not 25 anymore. There’s no chance he can play 75 games in a season again, a number he managed at age 26 in 2005-06, the final season of his first stint with the Panthers.
He was traded to the Canucks that summer.
Reflecting on those early years in Vancouver, he knows now that he was too hard on himself.
“I’m having a lot more fun playing the game (now), I don’t put as much pressure on myself to perform,” he said. “I’m not as hard on myself, I brush things off a little easier … these are things that happen over the course of the season, they happen to any goalie.”
But he also figures he wouldn’t be the person he is today without having been that person he was then.
“Sometimes the hardship is what makes you the person who you are, the way you handle it, the way you overcome things. Definitely it’s a part of me, that’s the way I see it,” he said. “I wish things were a little bit different, happened a little bit differently but at the end of the day you can’t change what’s happened, you can just take what you can out of it and move forward.”
And he wasn’t surprised to hear his former GM, Mike Gillis, admit this week to still not being over the Canucks’ loss in the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
“Pretty much the same,” he said of how he felt about 2011, which he nonetheless pointed to as a memory he holds above most others, along with moments like playing his first game in the NHL for the New York Islanders, being traded to Vancouver and then back to Florida in 2014. “Lot of the things he was reflecting on, I could relate to.”
The run is now seven years ago, but he admitted it still feels recent.
“It does and it doesn’t (feel like a long time.) It feels like it’s been a long time but it also feels like yesterday that you have that feeling in your stomach,” he said. “(I’m) in a better place now mentally … even though it was a disappointment, it was a great run and had a lot of disappointment.”
Luongo, unfortunately, injured his knee last weekend in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s out for another couple weeks.
But the ceremony goes on. He’ll have upwards of 30 friends and family members in attendance. His parents have flown in from Montreal.
And he’ll surely have a gaggle of former teammates from afar.
It will be weird, he admitted, to see the Canucks without a Sedin in the lineup, but he also said he made sure to rib Henrik the last time he saw him, at the NHL Awards last June in Las Vegas.
“I was giving it to him a little bit, ‘how could you retire, leaving me all to myself,’” he laughed.
Yup, he’s just having too much fun.
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