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Luongo held in awe by peers after retirement

Lauded by fellow goalies for his passion, work ethic, preparation

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

It's hard to imagine the NHL without Roberto Loungo.

That was the predominant theme among goalies who played with and against Luongo, who announced his retirement on Wednesday after 19 seasons in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers.

"I had a poster of him up on my bedroom wall from his early days in Florida and he was a guy I looked up to," said New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who played with Luongo for five seasons (2008-13) with the Canucks. "When you think about the last two decades of hockey and goaltending and people who were at the head of that era, [Luongo] went wire to wire.

 

[RELATED: Roberto Luongo career timeline | Luongo announces retirement after 19 seasons]

 

"[Martin Brodeur] was big until 2014 and guys like [Marc-Andre] Fleury and [Henrik] Lundqvist came around from 2005 to 2007, but Roberto came into the League in 1999-2000 and here he goes in 2019, so when I think about the last two decades, he is the guy who was there the whole time playing at a high level."

Video: Darren Pang joins the show to discuss Roberto Luongo

That the 40-year-old was able to play at such a high level for so long is a testament to his passion for the position, according to his peers. That love for goaltending drove a desire to constantly improve, one that fueled Luongo's ability to remain among the game's best into his late 30s, finishing near the top of almost every significant NHL goaltending statistic.

"This is a guy who never wanted to take a day off, even when he was playing 70-plus games," said Jamie McLennan, a teammate of Luongo's with the Panthers in 2005-06. "It was about repetition for him, doing it every day and always trying to get better and better."

Luongo finished his NHL career 489-392-91 with 33 ties, a 2.52 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and 77 shutouts in 1,044 NHL games. He holds the wins record for the Canucks (252) and Panthers (230), his 489 NHL victories are third all-time behind Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551), and his games played are second to Brodeur (1,266). Luongo won the gold medal with Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics, and first place at the 2003 and 2004 World Championship.

"For as long as I have been following the NHL, he has been playing in it," said Eddie Lack, who was in the Canucks system for five seasons with Luongo and was his teammate on the Canucks in 2013-14. "I was a little bit sad, the end of an era."

Throughout it all, his work ethic never wavered.

"The numbers are more than accomplishments and milestones, they're a testament to his daily commitment to be the best," said Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark, who also worked with Luongo in Florida. "Teammates, coaches, family and friends, countless fans, we are all beneficiaries of the passion he brought to our game and to the goaltending position."

That passion inspired others as well. Upon news of Luongo's retirement, Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier shared a photo of himself as a youth hockey goalie from Quebec with Luongo, Brodeur and Jose Theodore standing against the boards behind him, calling Luongo his idol and congratulating him for his career.

San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones lived in Vancouver when Luongo was traded from Florida to the Canucks on June 23, 2006.

"He was a huge influence on me growing up in Vancouver and watching him all the time," Jones said in a text message. "Even after my first season in [the American Hockey League], I remember coming back and watching him play in the 2011 [Stanley] Cup Final. He was amazing. There's a lot of things in my game I've tried to mimic from him."

Video: Goldstein analyzes 19-season career of Roberto Luongo

Martin Biron, who played with Luongo at the 2003 World Championship, and trained with him at caoch Francois Allaire's summer goaltending camps in Quebec, marveled at his success.

"The one thing about Roberto, and I tell people this all the time, if you watch Roberto in practice you would say, 'Yeah, he's a good goalie,' but nothing out of the ordinary," Biron said. "He wasn't the fastest, he wasn't the most athletic, but man, did he have great instincts, man, did he read the play so good, man, did he read the shooters so good, and that's what made him such a special guy and such a special goalie and no doubt a Hall of Famer."

McLennan also pointed to Luongo's mental approach.

"He is as strong an athlete as I have ever seen as far as locking his mind into the game, his preparation," McLennan said. "It's been well documented how he'd sit in stands and tape his sticks and go through a battery of mental exercises. His preparation was second to none."

Underlying it all was a drive to be great, to always get better. It manifested itself on the ice and off, adapting his workouts, his technique and even his equipment as the years went along.

When Luongo needed hip surgery for a torn labrum in May 2016, he wore a hole in the tiles on the bottom of his backyard pool doing water-based rehab exercises that summer. When he broke a bone in his right shoulder in 2014-2015, he tried a composite goalie stick during his rehab because it made it easier to practice while it healed, and never switched back. He changed skates two seasons ago to get a better edge for pushes. It was a perfect example of what made Luongo great: He was always looking to get a new or better edge.

"He always wanted to work on his craft, because he loved it so much," Lack said.

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