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Return to Montreal as All-Star special to "Bobby Lu"

by Dan Rosen
MONTREAL -- Roberto Luongo was back home Thursday night to visit his parents, Pasqualina and Antonio. He ate dinner at the old table he once sat at when he was a wide-eyed kid brimming with excitement and the dream of playing in the NHL.

Luongo, the Vancouver Canucks' All-Star goalie and captain, grew up in nearby St. Leonard, Que., a borough of Montreal located about 20 minutes away from the Bell Centre. He lived four blocks from Martin Brodeur, who is seven years older.

To hear Luongo tell it, participating in this particular NHL All-Star Weekend will go down as one of the most special things he will ever do in his hockey career.

"It means a lot of things to me," Luongo told "First of all, the fact is that it's in my hometown, so my friends and family are able to come. And, it's an All-Star Game, but there probably won't be another All-Star Game here in Montreal that I can play in. That's what makes it so special. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'm really happy to be part of it."

It wasn't too long ago that Luongo wondered if he was going to get this chance.

"I was very concerned for a lot of reasons," Luongo said.

He injured his groin Nov. 22 against Pittsburgh and was forced into rehab for the next six weeks. During that time, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, another local boy, won the XM/NHL All-Star Fan Balloting presented by 2K Sports.

At this point, not only was Luongo injured, but he wasn't sure if he was A) going to be selected to play in the All-Star Game, or B) be able to play.

"I didn't get voted in, and I didn't play a lot of games," said Luongo, who played in 19 games with 11 wins and five shutouts before his injury.

He was still tabbed earlier this month to be a backup to Giguere and better yet, he returned to the Canucks' crease on Jan. 15 against Phoenix, proclaiming himself not only healthy enough to play for Vancouver, but for the Western Conference as well.

"I was really excited I could be here," Luongo said. "I was 100 percent."

Luongo arrived in Montreal on Thursday feeling good about his game. He struggled in his first two games back, giving up nine goals on 60 shots, but he limited San Jose to just two goals on 29 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss on Tuesday.

Vancouver is 0-1-2 with him back in the net and hasn't won a game since Jan. 7 (0-4-2), so Luongo feels pressure. But he said he's ready for a big and healthy second half.

If there is anything that could comfort a Vancouver player or fan, it's the news "Bobby Lu" is feeling good.

"I felt my timing was off and my reads were not quite there yet (in the first two games), but this last game before the All-Star break I honestly felt like I did before (the injury)," he said. "I felt good, sharp and that I was seeing the puck well. There is always pressure, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to begin with. I try to make that my motivation. I'm a very competitive guy and right now I'm feeling pretty good."

Even though he's healthy enough to play Sunday, Luongo won't be competing Saturday night in the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout. Niklas Backstrom and Giguere will each face nine shooters instead of the originally planned six.

"You're just hanging around for an hour and then you have to go do breakaways," Luongo said. "I don't know if that's the best idea for a guy coming off a groin injury."

Getting on the ice for practice Saturday morning and playing a period Sunday night will be good for Luongo. While some players would rather rest than play, he said he can use the action to help him continue to get back into his pre-injury form.

"It does help," he said. "It's better for me to do this than not skate for five days."

That it's in Montreal only makes the trip sweeter.

Luongo said he will have 30 to 40 friends and family members in the stands the next two nights. He's also enjoying the spotlight here thanks of the large contingent of French media, who will get plenty of face time with the hometown boy this weekend.

"For sure this has a different feel," Luongo said of the All-Star Game and the media attention it brings. "It's an unbelievable feeling for everybody to have it here. It's exciting to be a part of this."

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