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Guess who's back

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
“Guess who’s back, back again. Louie’s back, tell a friend.”

As annoying as it was to have someone change the words to an Eminem song and sing it in my ear while we were jammed together during a packed sky train ride Monday morning, he made a good point.

Roberto Luongo is back and he’s bucking to get out of the gates. No need telling a friend, they’ll already know.

On Monday Luongo took part in his first full team practice since straining his groin on Nov. 22 and he looked like his old self in stifling his teammates throughout a variety of drills.

Left pad saves, right pad saves, a few off the blocker, others snagged with the glove – Luongo did it all in taking a Big Foot step towards returning to the line-up.

“I feel back to normal, so that’s good and I’m excited about it and it’s just nice to be back,” said Luongo, who felt no pain or discomfort during practice.

“We’re full go right now; I did everything in practice, I didn’t hold anything back. Just take it as if I was back and playing.”

Not so fast. While Luongo is talking the talking, he’s not ready to back it up by returning to game action quite yet.

Jason LaBarbera will likely start his sixth game as a member of the Canucks Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, with Curtis Sanford serving as backup.

Luongo’s been on the shelf for almost two months so it’s not desire keeping him out of the line-up, he’s simply double and triple checking that he’s all systems go.

“One full practice and not playing for seven weeks, I’m not sure that I’m ready to play a game,” he said, adding that he’s not as rusty as he was expecting to be.

“It’s tough to say [when I’ll play], I don’t know, it’s probably going to be day-by-day and we’ll see how it goes.

“I don’t want to get too excited right away, you’ve got to make sure you do the right thing and once you do start playing you’re contributing to the team.”

Since breaking into the NHL with the New York Islanders during the 1999-2000 season, Luongo has been relatively fortunate in having only suffered six injuries.

From Oct. 2001 to Dec. 2007, Luongo missed a combined 21 games, including 13 consecutive in March 2002 due to a sprained right ankle.

Banged up ribs kept him out of Vancouver’s line-up for four games in Dec. 2007 before this most recent stint on the IR, during which he’s already missed 23 contests.

The Canucks are 9-11-3 since Louie limped off the ice in Pittsburgh, so both sides are equally excited to reunite and put this incident behind them.

“I’ve been antsy for the last four weeks,” said Luongo. “It’s in my nature, I just want to get in there and try to help the team out, but you’ve got to be smart about things in making sure that not only when you’re healthy, but you want to contribute when you get back.”

No disrespecting the play of LaBarbera, Sanford and Cory Schneider (who is back tending twine for the Manitoba Moose), but the return of Luongo means one thing to the Canucks: wins.

Luongo was 11-5-1 in 19 starts to begin this season with a career-high 2.17 goals against average alongside a .928 save percentage and five shutouts – two off his career high.

Without having dusted off the equipment for game action in more than seven weeks, Luongo still ranks fifth in the league in both goals against and save percentage and his five donuts have him tied for second overall.

With stats as impressive as these it was a no-brainer that Luongo was named to the Western Conference All-Star Team for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game.

With the game being played in Luongo’s old stomping ground of Montreal, Quebec, it was also thought safe to assume that he’ll be playing in that game on Jan. 25, no matter what.

That isn’t the case.

“It’s not my priority, it would be nice, obviously because it’s in my hometown, but my priority is the Vancouver Canucks and making sure that I give my full attention to this team in making sure that when I start playing, I’m back 100 per cent and there’s no worries.

“If I have time and feel great, then it would be nice to go to the All-Star Game.”

Nice for Luongo and nice for the Canucks who otherwise will have no players representing the team, although that is the least of Vancouver’s worries.

Stringing together some consistent play on home ice is priority No. 1 and the odds of that happening drastically improve once Louie is back…say Thursday versus Phoenix perhaps?

“I know when it’ll feel right to be able to play and go, but right now I don’t want to set any dates because I don’t want to be disappointed if I’m not able to make that date or disappoint anybody else.”

Guess who’s back, back again. Louie’s back, tell a friend.

Canucks report
Luongo named to all-star team
Luongo's back on the ice
Hello, Hollywood
Being crazy helps
What if?

6 - Injuries Roberto Luongo has suffered in his career

23 - Games missed with a sprained groin

  48 - Career games missed due to injury

521 - Career games played since 1999-2000, including playoffs

29,780 - Career minutes in net, including playoffs

Wounded are walking
Luongo an All-Star
Luongo scrum

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+ Click for larger photo

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