SUNRISE, Fla. - When Roberto Luongo peers down from the press box and into the stands, the former Florida Panthers goaltender can often spot a few of his jerseys among the crowd.
"I can see people's backs," Luongo said. "A lot of times I spot a few Luongo jerseys out there. It's always a nice feeling to know that you were somebody's favorite player or made an impact on somebody. Those are the little things that a lot of people don't see, but they do mean a lot."
On Saturday night at BB&T Center, Luongo's lasting impact on both hockey and the community was not only visible, but also celebrated as the Panthers officially retired his iconic No. 1 jersey and raised it into the rafters during an emotional ceremony prior to hosting the Montreal Canadiens.
To see his jersey now, all he has to do is turn his gaze upward.
"It's been a great ride. It's been amazing," said Luongo, addressing the raucous crowd that filled the arena with "Luu!" cheers during his tenure in South Florida. "It still is amazing when I walk in the community and talk to you guys and see you in the grocery stores. You guys have been behind me from day one, and I'm truly humbled to have been through this journey with you."
Video: Thank You Luongo
After manning the crease for 19 seasons in the NHL -- including parts of 11 with the Panthers -- Luongo officially hung up his skates on June 26, 2019, finishing his career ranking second in NHL history in games played by a goalie (1,044), third in wins (489) and ninth in shutouts (77).
An icon both north and south of the Canadian border, the Montreal native remains one of just two goaltenders in NHL history to earn 200 wins with two different franchises, racking up 230 victories with Florida and 252 more with Vancouver - both of which stand as franchise records.
This night, however, was just about the Panthers. From the mini banners that adorned the seats to the custom "Rumberto Luongo" cocktail that fans sipped on throughout the night, the pre-game festivities were centered around the No. 1.
"When I was a kid, being No. 1 meant being No. 1, just being the best at everything," said Luongo, who was originally drafted by the New York Islanders with the fourth-overall pick in 1997. "I tried to be the best at everything I did. No. 1 in your programs, No. 1 in your hearts."
There were several speakers during the ceremony, including longtime Panthers goaltending coach Robb Tallas, who Luongo credits for helping him squeeze a few extra years out of his career, and former Panthers goaltender Jamie McLennan, who backed up Luongo in the 2005-06 season.
"You're a great man, a lifelong friend and you deserve this amazing recognition," said McLennan said, who regaled the crowd with a story of Luongo's skills at the poker table.
Panthers owner Vincent Viola also spoke at the event, telling Luongo, who now works in a front office role with the organization, that even though he didn't get to hoist a Stanley Cup during his playing career, the two of them will still continue their quest to bring a championship to Florida. "You've accomplished everything you've wanted in your professional career except one thing ... and we'll do that together," Viola said passionately.
In between speeches, there were also three videos shown on the jumbotron, including one that featured a series of congratulatory messages from fellow NHL legends like Martin Brodeur and Joe Thornton to former teammates like Kevin Weekes, Alex Burrows and Aleksander Barkov.
Video: Congratulations Luongo
"You're one of the best to ever do it," said Weekes, one of Luongo's early goaltending mentors in the NHL. "I'm proud to have been a former teammate of yours. I consider you a friend. You're class through and through. On the ice, off the ice …you're one of the greatest to put the gear on."
When asked about his contributions to hockey, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said one of the first things that comes to his mind when he thinks about Luongo is the speech that he gave following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.
Bettman described the moment as one of the most powerful he'd ever seen in the sport.
"I think he is somebody that represented all of the positive values of our game," said Bettman, who spoke after the ceremony. "Perhaps, as importantly, besides excellence on the ice being an important member of whatever community he was living in -- this community in particular."
As the ceremony began to wind down, Luongo made his way up to the microphone. Showing off his English, French and Italian while speaking for a little over 10 minutes, the 40-year-old legend touched on nearly every corner of his amazing career in hockey, taking time to thank and acknowledge both those in the room around him and others that could not be there.
But as his words began to wind down, he also made sure to take a moment to address the current Panthers that had watched the entire ceremony unfold from the bench behind him. With the team fighting to get into the playoffs, it was time for one last pep talk.
"I am really proud of you," Luongo said emphatically. "We have to believe in ourselves right now and enjoy the moment. Relish it, come out and have fun … never take it for granted."
From there, Luongo and his wife, Gina, and two children, Gianni and Gabriella, made their way across a red carpet to toward a box containing his banner. And as they watched his No. 1 raised up into the rafters, more then a few tears were shed among the group as the crowd cheered on.
Inspired by the ceremony, the Panthers went on to beat the Canadiens 4-1 later that night.
"There was a lot of talk of do it for Lu in here," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said.
And, just like his new banner, Luongo isn't going anywhere.
"South Florida's my home," said Luongo, who resides in Parkland. "I'm going to be here a long time. I did what I could not only on the ice, but off the ice and I look forward to keep doing that."
For more on Luongo's incredible career, visit FloridaPanthers.com/Luongo.