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Off-season of change

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

It was truly an off-season of change for Roberto Luongo.

Let’s start with the obvious: the all-star netminder is no longer the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo separated himself from the C a week ago, he’s now free of the extra distractions that came with being the outright leader of a team with huge expectations in a market starved for success.

Luongo loved being the captain. He loved being the main man in the room and he showcased a great deal of maturity and selflessness in returning the captaincy. Nothing has actually changed with Luongo though, he’s approaching Canucks training camp and his game the way he always has.

“I’m the same guy, I’m not going to change the way I was whether I’m captain or not,” said Luongo on Saturday. “I’m going to be vocal when I feel I need to be and I’m just going to go about my business the same way. At the end of the day, really it’s just a letter and a title and it doesn’t really change much for me.”

The true change for Luongo comes on the ice as for the first time in his tenure with the Canucks, and first time since his second year in Florida in 2001-02, he won’t be working with goalie coach Ian Clark.

As Clark was unable to the commit to the Canucks on a full-time basis and the team convinced having someone around for Luongo every practice would benefit the 31-year-old keeper, former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Roland Melanson was brought in.

Melanson, the first goaltender born in New Brunswick to play in the NHL, spent 12 years playing in the NHL for five teams, winning three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens from 1981-1983. His resume is impressive, but he and Luongo still need to establish a strong bond for their relationship to flourish. They put in some time this summer to get ahead of the game.

“I had a chance to work with him this summer when he came down to Florida for a week, we had a chance to get a good ground and develop a relationship and work on some things,” Luongo said.

“It’s good to have that happen in August because then once I get to camp I’m already familiar with certain things that he wants me to bring to my game.”

Luongo described Melanson as a “good technical coach” and the pair have already begun to make a few “minor changes” to his game. What exactly that entails and how it’ll play out is up in the air, but Luongo is open to any and all knowledge his new puck professor is offering.

“Every goalie coach is different and small little philosophies might differ from coach to coach so I’m open to whatever helps my game. I’m not close-minded and I’m going to play this way and that’s it. I’m open to new ideas, I’m trying to implement a couple of new ones that I’ve talked to Rollie about and we’ll see what gives in the next two-to-three weeks and in exhibition games.”

Vancouver’s last line of defence has always been a perennial slow starter to the season; in the past three seasons Luongo has split or been below .500 in his first six games, including last year when he began the year losing three straight and four of six with two shortened appearances.

Picking up those wins in October makes things a lot less stressful in late March and at the beginning of April and the sooner Luongo and Roland are on the same page, the better.

Same goes for Luongo and Vancouver’s off-season pickups Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.

Both blueliners will gobble up minutes on the backend all season long and Luongo, a 10-year NHL veteran, has been around long enough to know that communication is the key to success there as well. Essentially Luongo wants to be on the same wavelength with his new best friends yesterday.

“There’s two areas and one is playing the puck behind the net,” explained Luongo. “When I go out there making sure that I know where they’re going and when I’m out there we have good communication to make sure that I know what they want, if they want to pass it and stuff like that.

“And secondary is the net front coverage. I like certain things specific, box outs and grabbing sticks for rebounds, so I like to know what they like to do, block all their shots or things like that. We need communication in that area so I know when they’re going to try to step up and block a shot or take a shot in front of me.”

Much of building a strong rapport takes place on the ice, but just getting to know Hamhuis and Ballard as people will go a long way.

“You want to make sure you’ve got some good chemistry with those guys and that translates on the ice, obviously if you feel comfortable with the guy, obviously you’ll have good transition on the ice.”

Following a summer of change, Luongo now enters a season of change where, ironically, the Canucks hope he remains the same puck stopper he’s always been.

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