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Luongo relishes role as Canucks' captain

by Mike G. Morreale / Vancouver Canucks
After being named the first goalie to captain an NHL team in 61 seasons, Robert Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks had one thought in mind.

"(Luongo) asked me if he needed to work on his faceoff skills for times of special events at the arena," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault.

"We might be a little outside of box here (naming Luongo captain), but there's only two things that, as captain, Roberto can't do and that's wear the 'C' on his jersey or take faceoffs," Vigneault said.

Critics of the move said there was a reason for the 60-year moratorium on goaltending captaincies in the NHL; suggesting that the pressures of the job would weigh too heavily on a goalie's mind and might blunt the mental focus at the foundation of any goalie's game.

Those pressures haven't impaired Luongo's ability to win. In 35 starts this season, he is 21-8-5 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.

"I do embrace the challenge, and I enjoy it very much," Luongo says. "So, I don't think it really gives me a lot of added responsibility when I'm on the ice or in the locker room per se.
"I do try to speak up in the locker room. But only what comes natural to me. I don't really try to go out of my comfort zone or get me distracted by things like that. But so far it's really something that I love and that I embrace."

Luongo says it would take "all day" to inventory the disparate of parts of his game that come together to put him in the zone we are seeing early in the 2008-09 season. But, there are a few keys that he always focuses upon when assessing his play.

"I mean, for me, personally, there're always a few things that I always like to remind myself before the game," he says. "As I visualize and stuff like that, as far as where I want to be in regards to my crease area. I always want to be on top of my crease and make sure I'm not backing up too deep and challenging the shooter and making sure that I'm aware of other players that are in my zone, as far as if there were a pass to be made and stuff like that.

"It's a matter of just building off the last game. And you can't really take things for granted when you're a goalie, because, if you do, that's when you start getting in trouble. Always make sure you're on top of your game and doing the little things right."

By League rules, Luongo cannot wear the "C," but he can be named captain. Willie Mitchell has dealt with officials and Mattias Ohlund, the longest-tenured Canuck, will deal with any ceremonial aspects of the position such as faceoffs. The 29-year-old Luongo, however, is the voice of reason in the dressing room and during critical moments of each game.

The Canucks' captaincy had been vacated by Markus Naslund, who signed with the New York Rangers. Naslund had been the club's captain since 2000.

Vigneault pondered the decision to name a new captain over the summer.

"I went back East for about 10 days and came back and gave this captaincy issue a lot of thought," Vigneault said. "I had a meeting on the first day I came back and we discussed the captaincy and I talked about the different characteristics that all captains have. While I felt we had quite a few players on our team that possessed these characteristics to a certain degree, there was just one individual who had all these characteristics to a very high degree and that was Roberto. That's why I felt we should name him captain."

Luongo is not the first goalie to be named captain. Hall of Fame goalie Charlie Gardiner was captain of the Chicago Blackhawks when they won the 1934 Stanley Cup. Prior to Luongo, the last NHL goaltender who served as team captain was Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens during the 1947-48 season.

"We're happy Roberto's the leader of this of this organization and the leader of this group of players," Vigneault said. "He's the right choice."

Luongo's strong play has crystallized his candidacy to be among the goalies for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which will be contested in Vancouver.

"Obviously, being in Vancouver, there's a lot of Olympic talk and stuff, but it's really something I try to stay away from," he says. It's still a long ways to go before we get to that, so a lot of things could happen and there's a lot of great goalies in this League. So, for me it's just a matter of making sure I keep doing my job. And, if things turn out the way they're supposed to as far as my play, hopefully I'll be there next season."
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