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Roberto Luongo gets his chance to win the big one

Saturday, 02.27.2010 / 6:53 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Roberto Luongo gets his chance to win the big one
Roberto Luongo gets the chance to win the big one for the first time in his career when he takes the ice for Canada in Sunday’s gold-medal game against the United States.
VANCOUVER -- When Mike Babcock tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Go get 'em, Lu,' Roberto Luongo's legacy changed forever.

We all know ice hockey is Canada's passion and the goaltender is the most important man on the ice, so it can be argued that Babcock essentially gave Luongo a chance to become Canada's most important athlete at these Olympics.

Luongo has a chance to seal his legacy in a ring of gold by beating the United States on Sunday (3:15 p.m., NBC, CTV, TSN, SNET, V, RDS).

"There are situations that arise with every individual athlete and everybody is different, and for me, (Sunday) is an opportunity and it's my first opportunity to win something really big," Luongo told NHL.com. "I'm really excited and looking forward to the challenge."

For Luongo, this isn't just a chance to win gold. It's finally his opportunity to leave Martin Brodeur behind him after trailing in his dust for so long.

Brodeur and Luongo hail from the same neighborhood in Saint-Leonard, a suburb on the east end of Montreal. Ten years ago, the arena where Brodeur first laced up the skates because known as Arena Martin-Brodeur. Luongo got his name on his arena in August.

Brodeur, who is seven years older than Luongo, already won his gold medal in 2002, a time when Luongo was growing his NHL whiskers in Florida. Brodeur has also played in four Stanley Cup Finals and won three championships.

When Luongo and Brodeur arrived here in Vancouver for the Olympics, it was assumed that the elder statesman was going to get one more chance to win for his country while the younger guy would have to wait and wonder if he was ever going to get his shot.

Sure, Luongo won gold for Canada at the World Championships in 2003 and 2004 -- but in '03 Brodeur couldn't go because he was in the process of winning a Stanley Cup. He chose not to attend in '04 after the Devils were eliminated from the playoffs.

However, they were both here in Vancouver from the start -- and after Brodeur gave up four goals on 22 shots in a loss to Team USA last weekend, Babcock moved Canadian glaciers by tabbing Luongo as his goalie for the first elimination game against Germany.

Canada has won three in a row since and is 4-0-0 when Luongo plays. He has a .920 save percentage (81 of 87), a 1.75 goals-against average and one shutout.

"If we had gone with Marty he would have been fine, too. It’s just that was the decision we made," Babcock said. "Lu has gone in and the team has played well. Lu has to be good (Sunday) and he knows that."

We're not talking about an ignorant man here. Luongo is aware he has critics who right now are saying he has never won a big game in his life and maybe he can't.

He didn't help his reputation last season when he gave up seven goals to Chicago, including three to Team USA star Patrick Kane, in the deciding Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Before Team USA knew Canada would be its opponent in the gold-medal game, Kane was saying he was hoping to face Luongo again

"I've had my luck against him personally," he said. "So that's a goalie I wouldn't mind going up against."

Luongo, though, doesn't really care what everybody thinks about his big-game experience, or lack thereof.

"No, I don't actually," he said. "Not everybody gets a chance to win. You look at Dan Marino in the NFL, maybe the greatest quarterback of all time and he never won a Super Bowl, but you don't take anything away from him."

That's technically not true because if you ask most football fans or historians, they will bring up the fact that Marino never won the big one. Luongo is still in his prime, only 30 years old and he plays for a contending team in this city.

This may not be his only chance to win something huge, but it's his first and for his country, it doesn't get any bigger.

"We all have these opportunities in our careers to make a name for ourselves and he has that opportunity," Babcock said. "Some people might think that's pressure, I think it's just the opposite. Why wouldn't he want to be great? He's a great big man, this is his home building and he's gotta love it when they go, 'Luuuuu.'"

"There are situations that arise with every individual athlete and everybody is different, and for me, (Sunday) is an opportunity and it's my first opportunity to win something really big. I'm really excited and looking forward to the challenge." -- Roberto Luongo
Luongo does love it. He seems to love everything about these Olympics. He's not at all consumed by the pressure or the magnitude of the event.

He called the furious final two minutes of Friday's 3-2 win over Slovakia, when Canada was hemmed in its zone as the Slovaks swarmed in an effort to score the tying goal, the most fun he's ever had.

When it was over, he was seen shaking hands and laughing with Vancouver teammate Pavol Demitra, who would have tied the game with nine seconds left if it hadn't been for Luongo reaching his catching glove out to chip away Demitra's shot from the right post.

"This is the Olympics, and you have to take it all in. It's something you may never live again," Luongo said. "Sometimes you watch other events on TV, you look at the skiers or whatever, and even if they are 30th or 35th when they are done they are smiling because it's a big thing for them. I don't see why it would be different for us."

Luongo's attitude spills over to the rest of his team.

"When you're doing your job, when you're out there and you know what you want to do and you're doing it, you're enjoying it and having fun with it, I guess it's a good day," Scott Niedermayer told NHL.com. "You get into a game like (Sunday's), where it's going to be intense, it's going to be pressure-packed and every shift is going to matter, it's good to have guys who are going to be enjoying it and relishing the opportunity."

Make no mistake -- this is Luongo's opportunity for so many reasons.

"You work for something like this your whole life," Luongo said. "It's all about seizing the moment now."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com