“We’re looking forward to it. We’re all going to be coming up together for the start of training camp,” Luongo tells canucks.com from his off-season home in South Florida where he’s spent most of the summer enjoying fatherhood for the first time. “Everything’s been great. It’s everything I imagined it to be and more. Every week she’s doing something new. She’s starting to interact with us and it’s fun to see the way she’s developing.”
Fun was the furthest thing from Luongo’s mind as he and the Canucks spiralled out of a playoff spot down the stretch last spring. And even now, months later, it is clear how much the bitter end to the 2007-08 hockey season still bothers the puck-stopper.
“That was probably toughest stretch I’ve ever had to go through in my career. I definitely don’t want to be part of that again. Obviously I missed the playoffs with the Panthers, but it’s different when you’re expected to be in the playoffs and don’t make it than when I was in Florida and there really were no expectations,” he says. “You want to make sure that this year we’re ready from the start and we get things off on the right foot so that we can build on good things right away and not have to fall behind the 8-ball like we did last year.”
Despite being thousands of kilometres away in a different country on the opposite side of the continent, Luongo is very much in tune with what has gone on here in the off-season. And he’s well-aware that the team he is returning to will hardly resemble the one he left last April when the players went their separate ways for the summer. NEW FACES
Gone are long-time fixtures like Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Trevor Linden along with Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister, Aaron Miller and, of course, Luc Bourdon. Their spots in the line-up will be taken by Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk.
“I was really sad to see guys like Markus and Brendan leave the team. They were there before I arrived and they were a really big part of the franchise and they were great guys to be friends with. It was really sad for me to see those guys go, but unfortunately that’s part of the business,” Luongo says. “At the same time we’ve got some new guys in and I’m anxious to get things going and see what kind of statement we can make this year.”
While he doesn’t know all of his new teammates, Luongo is familiar with both Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk. All three were teammates in Florida from 2002 through 2004. And he welcomes what they bring to the Canucks.
“Those are the types of guys you want to have on your team and in the locker room. They have big hearts and they play hard every night. Those are the kind of players you need on a team,” adds Luongo, who knows that even though league rules prevent him from wearing a ‘C’ on his jersey that he’ll very much be expected to be part of the Canucks’ new leadership group.
“This will be my third year with the team. Every year that I’m there I feel more comfortable and I feel my (position) as a leader takes on a bit of a bigger role. Obviously, we lost some key guys as far as leadership in the locker room so it’ll be me and a couple of other guys who are going to have to step up in that department.” TALK WITH THE BOSS
While the changes to the Canucks roster have been significant, the most drastic change in the organization came with the April departure of Dave Nonis, the man who had brought Luongo to Vancouver in the spring of 2006. Mike Gillis is now in charge and one of the first things on the new general manager’s to-do list was to get in touch with his best player. Gillis did that and it didn’t take long for the two to realize they were of like mind when it comes to the ultimate goal for the Vancouver Canucks.
“We definitely had a good talk and we talked for a while. I’m not going to go into details about the discussion, but we’re both there for the same reason and that’s to win,” Luongo explains. “When you have two guys that have the same goal at the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask for.”
Luongo says he’s been on the ice a few times since the start of August and will start to ramp up his on-ice sessions to prepare himself for the annual professional development camp he will attend later this month in Montreal. That will put him in the head-space he needs to be in for training camp in Whistler starting on September 20th.
Luongo, who was 35-29-9 with a 2.38 goals against average and a 91.7 save percentage last year, says he’s examined the Canucks 2008-09 regular season schedule, but hasn’t given much thought to how many games he’ll get into this coming season. He’ll leave that for later when he can sit down with head coach Alain Vigneault. WORKING THINGS OUT
“Obviously I’ve looked at the schedule but not in terms of how much I’m going to play. It’s more about the way your body feels and the way you feel mentally and I’m sure they saw what happened toward the end and maybe I did need a break at a certain point, he says of the hectic stretch that saw him start the team’s final 31 games while dealing with his wife’s delicate pregnancy. (How much you play) that’s something you decide as you go and you have to really listen to your body and your mind and listen to what they’re telling you.”
The bottom line is that Roberto Luongo
is going to play and play a lot for the Canucks this coming season. And the hockey team is going to need him to get back to the form he displayed two seasons ago when he back-stopped the club to a Northwest Division title and franchise records for wins (49) and points (105). And in his first taste of NHL playoff action, Luongo helped the Canucks advance to the second round of the post-season.
With basically the same group of defensemen in front of him for the third straight season, Luongo figures the Canucks have the foundation for a winning hockey club in 2008-09.
“We have one of the top defensive corps in the league when everybody’s healthy. So there’s no reason why we can’t be competing with the top teams in the league. For me personally, that’s the way I look at it,” he says. “The main thing is trying to stay healthy all year.”
The Canucks couldn’t manage to do that last year and it caught up with them at the end of the season. But this is a new year. And Roberto Luongo
can’t wait for it to get started.