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Luongo's Jersey Retirement Celebrates No. 1 Person and Player

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Roberto Luongo said after his retirement that he planned to spend the rest of his life in South Florida.

Now, his jersey has found a permanent home as well.

The Florida Panthers announced on Monday morning that Luongo's No. 1 sweater will be raised into the BB&T Center rafters and never worn again. The first player in franchise history to receive such an honor, the ceremony is set for March 7, 2020, prior to a matchup against his hometown Montreal Canadiens.

"Roberto is a cornerstone of Panthers history and an icon of the game," Panthers Owner & Governor Vincent J. Viola said the team's official release. "He has represented himself and the Panthers with tremendous dignity, determination and a standard of excellence throughout his career.

"Roberto exemplifies what it means to be a Florida Panther. His level of commitment to this franchise, his teammates, his family and the South Florida community is second to none. There is no player more deserving to be the first Florida Panther to have his jersey number retired." 

Video: Luongo

While Luongo is the first player to have his number taken off the market, the Panthers have previously enshrined digits in honor of two of the organization's builders - 93 (in commemoration of Florida's first season) for original President Bill Torrey and 37 (his lucky number) for inaugural owner Wayne Huizenga.

"A true professional, competitor and gentleman, Roberto set the standard for players in this organization," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said. "There was never a question in any of our minds that Roberto would be the first Panthers player to have his number retired by the franchise."

While numerous stars and fan favorites have donned a Panthers jersey throughout the organization's 25-year history, it's hard to argue that any player, past or present, has meant as much to South Florida than Luongo, whose contributions both on the ice and in the community will resonate for some time.

Initially acquired in a trade with the New York Islanders on June 24, 2000, it didn't take long to realize that Luongo was special. He was a different, but in a way that made you pay attention. Not since the days of John "Beezer" Vanbiesbrouck had fans seen such a talent in net, one they rallied behind with boisterous "Luu" chants that followed the highlight-reel saves he seemed to make on a nightly basis.

And although his first stint with the Panthers lasted only five seasons, the mark he left on the franchise was indelible. His "Pink Panther" mask was iconic, and his play on the ice matched his big personality. He was an all-star in 2004 and finished third in Vezina Trophy voting following a stellar 2003-04 campaign.

But on June 23, 2006, the "Luu" era was put on hold. He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, a team he would end up spending parts of eight seasons with, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Like all good stories, however, he seemed destined to return to Florida, a community he'd grown to love.

So, when the Panthers reacquired Luongo on March 4, 2014, it felt as if everything had come full circle. In his first game back, he posted a shutout victory against the Buffalo Sabres in front of a rowdy crowd at BB&T Center that was eager to welcome him home. He was back, but not to ride off into the sunset.

Having never reached the playoffs during his first stint with the Panthers, he aimed to make the most out of his second chance. From 2014-2017, Luongo, despite his age, was one of the best goaltenders in the league, owning a .920 save percentage over 163 appearances and earning an all-star nod in 2015-16.

It was also in 2016 that Luongo achieved his goal of getting the Panthers into the postseason. Finishing fourth in Vezina Trophy voting, his 35-19-6 record, 2.35 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and four shutouts helped propel the team past Game 82 for just the fifth time in the history of the franchise.

Despite a hard-fought first-round exit to the New York Islanders, Luongo had achieved his goal.

"Making the playoffs a few yeas ago was something that was really exciting for me, especially because I'd decided to come back to Florida," said Luongo, who had a .922 save percentage in the six-game series. "Even though we lost, I just remember the excitement of that playoff series and how hard it was. That was the first time I was able to be in the playoffs with the Panthers. It was a fun feeling."

The next time the Panthers are in the playoffs, Luongo will still be cheering, but from the stands.

After wrapping up his 19th season in the NHL in April, the 40-year-old said the decision to finally hang up his skates -- an announcement he later ended up making on June 26 through a comical post on Twitter --- was less about his desire to continue playing and more about the fact that his body wouldn't let him. Although his heart still yearned for a Stanley Cup, his other appendages told him it was time.

"Usually, this time of year and August is the worst month," Luongo said. "You're doing double-training at the gym and on the ice, so I am not missing that part, I can tell you that. But I am going to miss being around the guys once the season starts."

Luongo's teammates are likely to miss him just as much.

A leader in the locker room, he was not only one of the faces of the team during his 11 seasons with the Panthers, but also one of their loudest voices. His former teammates would often say that although he didn't speak up all the time in the room, when he did everyone took notice and took his words to heart.

It was his way with words that also helped the community heal following an unspeakable tragedy.

In the first home game following the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland - located just 13 1/2 miles from BB&T Center - on Valentine's Day 2018, Luongo, with eyes watering, gave a heartfelt pre-game speech before leading the Panthers to a huge victory over the Washington Capitals.

Video: Luongo's heartfelt words on hometown tragedy resonate

"It was very emotional," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said after the game. "It was a powerful game. A powerful speech before the game by Lu. Powerful meaning behind the game. The fans were great."

In stepping away from the game, Luongo leaves behind a legacy of class and excellence. One of only three goaltenders to ever suit up in 1,000 NHL games, he also ranks second in NHL history in games played by a netminder (1,044) and total saves (28,409), third in wins (489) and ninth in shutouts (77).

He also holds all of Florida's major goaltender records, including games played (572), wins (230), shutouts (38) and saves (16,068) - each milestone looking to be out of reach for years to come.

Still, despite these accolades, Luongo said he was surprised to hear about his jersey retirement.

"When I found out yesterday, I didn't even realize I was going to be the first player to have his number retired, so obviously that makes it even extra special," Luongo said. "It's a great honor and I am looking forward to the night."

For Luongo, the night will be a chance celebrate with his family and put an official period a remarkable career, one that will also likely land him a spot in hockey's Hall of Fame at some point down the road.

But for fans, the ceremony will serve as a reminder for what many of them have always known.

Whether it's on the ice off or off of it, Luongo has and always will be number one.

Want to share in Luongo's big night? Tickets for the March 7 matchup vs. Montreal can be found HERE.

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