returned to Vancouver from his off-season home in Florida over the weekend and returned to the ice at the Canucks practice facility on Monday. Before his workout with Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark, Luongo held court with the local media and wasted no time stating his goal for the coming season.
“I don’t look at numbers, really. Individual stats are not my goal. We’re all here to win the Cup and that’s what I’m playing for,” Luongo said while watching many of his teammates skate at 8-Rinks. “I’m really excited. I had a taste of the playoffs last year and there’s no better feeling. This year I want to get things going and get off to a better start than last year and take the team to the next level.”
While music to ears of his teammates and Canuck fans everywhere -- and much to the chagrin of the rest of the hockey world -- the 28-year-old uber-stopper left no doubt there’s room for improvement in his own game. And remember, this is a guy who set a Canucks record with 47 wins last year, represented Vancouver in the NHL All-Star game and was a finalist for the Hart, Vezina and Lester B. Pearson trophies.
“There’s always room for improvement. The more experience you get, the better you become and the harder you work in practice and work on your game in aspects you know you can improve on,” he adds. “You always want to improve because if you kind of stay at the same level, that’s when people start passing you.”
Luongo admits it took a vacation to Hawaii immediately after the Canucks’ playoff loss to Anaheim to shed himself of the mental anguish of his first post-season exit. He says he spent a month or so at home in Florida without thinking of hockey or of his preparations for the upcoming season. But for the past six weeks, he’s regained his hockey mindset hitting both the ice and the gym as he got ready for his second training camp as a member of the Canucks.
And this time he comes to town comfortable with the city, his teammates and the system the guys will play in front of him – all things that should allow him to focus on stopping pucks.
“I’m settled in already. Last year, there was a lot of stuff going on when I got here. Everything was new and I didn’t know the guys and now just getting here in a good situation where I have a place and I know most of my teammates and I feel comfortable already,” he says. “It helps out once the season starts to be in the zone and to get that comfort level that I pretty much achieved once the holidays rolled around last year.”
Luongo stressed again the personal satisfaction he took from having the chance to compete – and succeed -- in meaningful games from Christmas on last year. If he could, he says, he’d fast-forward straight to the playoffs again. But knowing he can’t, Luongo’s prepared to pick up where he left off last year.
“It kind of sucks that we’ve got to play a whole season to get back to the playoffs. But there’s nothing better than playing NHL hockey during the playoffs. It’s exciting and it’s just a whole other level. It’s not really something you can even describe. It’s great hockey and there’s so much intensity involved that there’s nothing better in the world.”
Monday’s appearance at 8-Rinks gave Luongo his first chance to meet the man who’ll be backing him up this season. It also gave observers one of those rare chances to see Curtis Sanford on the ice while Luongo watched from the sidelines.
It won’t happen often during the season. And even before training camp begins, Luongo was giving no indication he planned to play any less than the 76 (88 including playoffs) games he appeared in last year.
“It’s something we take in stride. I think last year we were at a point where things were so tight, I really wanted to be in there and contribute as much as I could to try to make sure that a) we were in the playoffs and b) towards the end, that we won the division,” he says. “I think the main thing is you have to listen to your body and if your body feels tired, that’s when you have to take some time off. But I was energized all year, especially toward the end, so I didn’t feel any tiredness there.”
Luongo’s attitude and approach with the new season at hand should help energize his teammates who know the netminder will give the Canucks a chance to win every time he’s between the pipes. And for his part, Luongo likes the subtle tweaks and changes the club has made here in the summer of 2007.
“We did some important moves securing Kevin (Bieksa) for a few years and I think it’s important to have the top four guys together like that for the next few years,” he says. “We got some guys for the blueline that are really going to help us out and some grinders up front. I think the elements are there from the beginning and if we step up our level of play one notch as a team, we’re right there.”
In years gone by, such claims by any Canuck much less from a Canuck goaltender would likely have sounded hollow. But with a confident and comfortable Roberto Luongo
ready to once again be the last line of defence, the Canucks now have to believe that anything’s possible.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com