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Papa Louie

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Sleep will be of the essence to Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo come April.

The all-star netminder will need to be rested so he can help take the Canucks deep into the playoffs, but also because Louie will become a proud papa around that same time.

Roberto and his wife Gina are expecting their first child in early spring and even though that’s still a few months away, they are already beaming about the arrival of their daughter.

“I’m very excited,” said Roberto. “Ever since that we found out she was pregnant last summer, it’s been exciting.”

While he may be a little too overwhelmed stopping pucks to pick out cribs or shop for pacifiers right now, Roberto is still enjoying the ride he and Gina are on as expecting parents.

“Just to see her tummy grow now and I was able to feel her move while I was down there during Christmas time. It’s really exciting, especially when it’s our first.”

It’s rare that an NHL superstar lets down his guard and shows some emotion for something other than hockey, but Roberto has no trouble expressing feelings about life outside the rink.

His ear-to-ear smile is a clear indication that he’s prepared to write another chapter in his life. Hockey may be the plot, but his wife and daughter-to-be are the main characters.

This became even more evident two weeks ago when Vancouver’s savior between the pipes disclosed that he will miss the 2008 All-Star Game to spend time with Gina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Roberto said that Gina is going through a ‘delicate pregnancy’ and that it's been rough being apart from her for such long stretches.

His decision to skip the 56th All-Star Game, which will also cause him to miss Vancouver’s home game against Dallas on Jan. 29, sparked debate among the media and fans alike, with cynics claiming that Baby Luongo is a distraction.

The truth is that he should be commended for putting his family first, and the Canucks feel the same way. Some of Louie’s teammates even believe that becoming a dad will help him grow to be a better player, just as it did for them.

“You feel happier outside the hockey rink so you obviously bring your happiness into the rink and that can help you in your game,” said forward Byron Ritchie, whose son Ryder is almost a year and half old. “You’re more positive, you’re feeling better and you’re outside life is happy.”

Ritchie said that the change to his level in play wasn’t immediately evident, but more gradual, whereas he felt an instant shift as a person.

“Once you’ve had a child, you really appreciate the meaning of life. I think kids bring a whole new perspective on life, it’s kind of all about them now, and it’s more and more fun everyday. It’s amazing the feeling you get inside when you see your son laugh and smile and stuff like that; it’s pretty special.”

Jason Jaffray, who was recalled from the Manitoba Moose on Jan. 22, became a father 11 months ago when his wife Michelle gave birth to Kennedy, the couple’s first child. His daughter immediately put things in perspective, which helped the forward play better hockey.

“I’m the type of hockey guy that when I had a bad game, I thought about it all night,” said Jaffray. “Once we had our little girl, it helped my game out a lot because I’d come home and that was the last thing that would be on my mind. Now as soon as I walk in the door and she gives me a big hug, or she’s smiling and I get to play with her, hockey is the last thing that’s on my mind, and I think you need that.

“I think it’s important to have something other than hockey in your life to be successful at this game because you can’t live, breath and eat hockey at all times; you get tired by the end of the year and I think having something else in your life like a little child takes your mind off of that.”

Both Jaffray and Ritchie believe the drastic shift in priorities that comes with becoming a dad is a big part of why they became better players.

“He became the priority,” said Ritchie, about Ryder. “Before when I was wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, after practice I’d go for lunch with the guys or go to a movie at night with the guys, and now its right home to the family. I spend as much time as I can with them because we’re gone so much.”

Ryder and Kennedy won’t understand the positive affect they’ve had on their dads for many years to come, and neither will Baby Louie. Or should that be Baby Louisa because Roberto and Gina are expecting a girl? What are the parents-to-be leaning towards for a name anyways?

“We’re going to keep that under wraps for now,” smiled Luongo.

With 21 wins, a goals against average of 2.11, a save percentage of .925, alongside six shutouts so far this season, Luongo is on pace for a second-straight Vezina Trophy nomination.

Whether he’s successful in becoming the first Vancouver goaltender to win the award remains to be seen, but it doesn’t matter to Luongo.

The trophy he is truly excited about arrives in April and it’ll be his to cherish for a lifetime.

  0:07 - Seconds until another baby is born in North America

  7.5 - 8.5 - Average weight
of a new born (lbs)

  1:36 - Average time it takes for a guy to change a baby

6,000 - Diaper changes
for the average baby in
the first two years

100,000 - Hours of sleep Roberto and Gina will lose once their baby is born

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