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Luongo dishes on Olympics, playoffs and staying put

by Dan Rosen
CALGARY -- As a wage earner in Vancouver, he's got a front-row seat to the hype for the 2010 Winter Olympics. If that's not enough motivation for Roberto Luongo to have a stellar first three months of the NHL season we don't know what is.
Luongo, though, has a lot on his mind as he leaves Canada's National Team Orientation Camp and heads back to Vancouver for training camp in just two and a half weeks.
Will he sign a contract extension to stay with the Canucks long term? Will he be able to forget about how last season ended -- a 7-5 loss at Chicago in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinal, when he stopped only 23 of 30 shots and became teary-eyed during his postgame session with the media? Will the pressure of being considered a sure thing to make Canada's Olympic team be too much to bear?
Luongo sat down this week with in Calgary and touched on every one of those topics and more.
He wants to sign the extension, but won't do it after training camp begins. He doesn't want to forget about that game against Chicago and instead hopes to use it as motivation. He doesn't worry about the pressure he's under to make Team Canada.
Read on for more as Luongo goes one-on-one with Since you're a big poker guy, let's talk in your language. In terms of your chances of making this Olympic team, what kind of cards are you holding?
Luongo: "That's a tough one to answer. I'll say that I'm holding pocket kings right now in my hand pre-flop and I'm hoping an ace doesn't come out on the board." Is Martin Brodeur holding an ace?
Luongo: "Oh, I don't know. I don't want to make any references like that." The games being in Vancouver puts you under a different microscope than probably the other goalies trying out for this team. How do you think that is going to affect you in anyway, if it will at all, since you are going to see everything get set up?
Luongo: "It's not going to affect me in a negative way. The pressure is always going to be there no matter what type of game it is. In a Canadian market you're used to facing the pressure on a daily basis, so if anything it motivates me more and gets me excited and my juices flowing a little bit more." You can look around and know every day there will be stories in the paper about it and you obviously want to be there. If you could quantify it, what does it mean for you to be on this team? Is it hard to put into words when talking about this particular Olympics and this particular team?
Luongo: "Yeah, definitely. First, it's in Canada, so that's already a plus. Then it's in Vancouver, which is extra special for me because I play there. Any time you get a chance to play for an Olympic team it's always a privilege and honor, so I will definitely be disappointed if I wasn't on the team." What kind of pressure goalie would you say you are? Do you think you thrive in that environment?
Luongo: "I think so. When I'm heading into a playoff game I get excited about it so that's the kind of emotion you want to have. You're obviously nervous 'cause everybody is, it's a big game, but at the same time you're excited about playing with that type of energy in those atmospheres. I look forward to those games. Unfortunately the last game in Chicago (7 goals-against, 30 shots in 7-5 loss) was not a reflection of the way I play, but those things are going to happen once in a while. Hopefully that game won't tag me for a long time." I was going to ask you about that next. Seven goals is obviously not like you or a reflection of how you play. Is it easy to forget about now that you're in this camp and the season is going to be approaching soon? Can you finally move past it?
Luongo: "It's not easy to forget about it and in some way I don't; I kind of want to use it as motivation for this year. With you guys in the media it's hard to forget about it. You guys keep reminding me and bringing it up every day. It was a tough thing to deal with, but at the same time I think it's going to help me grow and be stronger the next time it comes around." What was your Torino experience like?
Luongo: "It was awesome. I'm Italian, my parents are Italian, so going back there was fantastic. It was my first Olympic experience and I didn't know what it was like to be in the village and all that stuff. From the hockey standpoint, obviously, we were disappointed with the result, but the rest of the experience was unbelievable." Is part of what happened in Torino serving as a motivation factor for the Vancouver Games? Already it's in Canada and that's enough right there, but it seems that this (orientation) camp is the most important thing in the world right now to Canadian fans. Is that partly because of the Torino experience?
Luongo: "Personally, I wouldn't think so. I think just the fact that it's in Canada and obviously hockey is so important in this country is why it has gotten so much exposure. What happened in Torino was disappointing, but I don't think that's why it's getting so much attention right now." Does it leave a sour taste still in your mouth? That was your one Olympic experience and it was a seventh-place finish.
Luongo: "It doesn't. It was disappointing, like I said, but just the experience was unbelievable and it kind of brings me back to when I had my World Juniors experience two years in a row (1998-99). The first year we finished seventh or eighth and lost against Kazakhstan. The next year was in Winnipeg and we lost in the final (in overtime to Russia). It's similar to what I'm dealing with now." As we were walking up here (for this interview) we touched briefly on your contract situation. Is it affecting you? Does it bother you that there are constant rumors out there?
Luongo: "Not right now because it's still downtime and the season hasn't started yet. Obviously we're trying to get it done before training camp starts and if it doesn't get done before then once the season starts we're not really going to focus on that. We're going to focus on playing and we'll deal with that once the season is over." I read somewhere that last season, the disappointment of losing was not only because of that game in Chicago, but because you really felt you had a team that could go win the Cup. Did that re-affirm your belief in Vancouver and what they're trying to do? Is that where you want to be?
Luongo: "Definitely, definitely. That's why I expressed to the team that I want to be there. All I'm asking for is a chance to win the Cup and I thought last year we had as good a chance to compete for it. We have a great organization. The team wants to win. They want to build a winning team every year and that's what I want to be part of." You've said repeatedly this week that all you can do is go out and play. Is that what calms everybody down in an environment like this in that it's (making this team) really out of your control. As long as you just go do your job everything else just happens?
Luongo: "Exactly. The only thing I can do is do what I have been doing for the last 10 years, and that's playing in the NHL, playing well and being the best I can be. There is no need to do anything extra special to try to make the team. I just have to be myself and make sure every time I step on the ice I'm playing not only for my club team, but in the back of my mind I'm playing for a spot on this team." So, Marty (Brodeur) had an arena named after him in St. Leonard (where both goalies grew up) and now you do. Explain that to us. Where is it and when did it happen?
Luongo: "It was this past Saturday, so just a few days ago. It's maybe two or three minutes away from Marty's arena. We have two arenas in that city and they approached me this summer about it. I was very flattered and honored to have the arena named after me. There was a big party on Saturday. It kind of feels a little bit surreal to have an arena named after you, especially because I feel I'm still young. Maybe I'm in denial or something. I don't know" Marty says every time he drives past his arena it just seems weird. Is that going to be the same for you, like 'Why is my name there?'
Luongo: "Yes. I drove by it a few times already after that and it does feel surreal. You have grown up seeing that arena as another name your whole entire life and now for it to be named after you is special, but at the same time it's hard to believe still."
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