VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo returned to the city he thought he'd left for good Friday, pulling on a Vancouver Canucks practice sweater for the first time since the team shocked everyone -- especially Luongo -- by instead trading Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at the NHL Draft.
Almost two months later, Luongo said it still seemed strange to come back.
"It was a bit odd flying here," Luongo said after an informal hour-long skate with more than a dozen teammates. "But now that I am here I am just focused on getting training camp started and making sure I am where I want to be physically."
As for where he is mentally, Luongo insisted it's a good place.
"I have been focused on getting ready for training camp the last month or so, trying to eliminate every distraction possible," he said. "And at this point in time that's all I really want to be focused on, just playing the game, and making sure I get back to where I was two years ago and re-establish myself as one of the best in the League."
It was a consistent theme throughout Luongo's 10-minute chat with local reporters, a large gathering he helped create by announcing his return on a no-longer secret Twitter account (@Strombone1) the night before.
Luongo ended his tweet with "#divatour2013," a reference to a "Ya Done Being A Diva" headline that ran in the Vancouver Province in late August along with a story suggesting he dragged things out by not talking soon after the trade and played a role in being the one who wasn't dealt.
Luongo said Friday he wants to finally end a saga that started almost two years ago, when Schneider took over as the starting goalie two games into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, leading Luongo to say it "was time to move on."
But when asked directly if he wanted to be back in Vancouver now, Luongo, who has nine seasons left on a 12-year, $64 million contract, didn't provide the kind of definitive response that might have put a stop to any lingering questions about his long-term future.
"I've said all along I want to play, and right now I have that opportunity so I want to take advantage of that and go as far as we can and hopefully try to win a Stanley Cup," Luongo replied. "This is a big year for me. I have been sitting on the bench for a while and I want to show everybody what I can do. We all know it's an Olympic year so I just want to make the best of it."
As for that long-term future, Luongo said he has stopped worrying about it. And if Friday was any indication, he will soon stop talking about it, which was one of the reasons he took to Twitter to announce his return to Vancouver.
"Try to get it out of the way as quick as possible so it is less of a distraction once training camp starts. I really don't want it to be around the team once we get going," Luongo said. "It's a situation that's tough to figure out. You just have to stop trying to figure it out and just let it play out as it plays out. It's a bit out of my hands and I don't want to worry about that stuff. I don't want to hurt my teammates and I don't want to hurt the organization, so I don't want this to carry on all season and have to talk about it."
His teammates don't seem worried about an awkward situation dragging on.
"It was weird. You feel bad for the guy, but at the same time, he is a world-class goalie and we are happy to have him on our team," Ryan Kesler told NHL.com. "He's a professional. I think he is going to have his best year yet."
That professionalism meant Luongo never considered not reporting to camp -- "not my style," he said --and he said he doesn't hold a grudge against general manager Mike Gillis, who visited Luongo at his Florida home shortly after the about-face trade of Schneider.
"There was no animosity there," Luongo said of a meeting described by Gillis earlier this summer as jovial. "I don't know if it was as rosy as he painted it, but we had a couple of laughs. They are just trying to do their job, and I don't hold that against them at all."
Luongo said he is looking forward to his wife and two children joining him in Vancouver after they stayed at their Florida home for the abbreviated 2012-13 season. And the 34-year-old has a chip on his shoulder about reclaiming his spot among the NHL's elite goaltenders.
"Not angry. It's not anger," he said. "You feel like even though you have been in the League such a long time you always feel like you have something to prove and that's the way I feel, that's the way I have approached this year. … When you are the backup, whether you like it or not, your reputation goes down a little bit. People don't give you a much credit as when you are playing 70 games a year. I just feel that way. Some people see it differently, but for myself I just want to show everybody I can still do it."
Luongo said he is looking forward to playing for new coach John Tortorella, whom he talked to several times over the phone. Luongo said he expects Tortorella to bring a "spark to the boys" and sees no problem playing behind a team promising to block more shots. The ensuing bounces can leave an over-aggressive goalie stranded out of position, and though Luongo is no Henrik Lundqvist in terms of his positioning, he has played inside the crease on end-zone plays since goaltending coach Roland Melanson arrived in Vancouver three seasons ago.
"I'm a 3/4 depth guy now so I'm not too worried about it," Luongo said.
There wasn't much Luongo seemed to be worried about. But after expecting to leave Vancouver for good for almost two years, he wasn't willing to say he is now prepared for anything.
"Just when you think you've seen it all, right, there's always something else," Luongo said with a laugh. "I don't know what the future holds, but right now I am just focused on the season."
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