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The Story Behind Luongo's #MSDStrong Mask

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Luongo wears MSD goalie mask

CGY@FLA: Luongo supports Stoneman Douglas with mask

Roberto Luongo takes the ice for warmups in a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School goalie mask, one year after the tragedy in Parkland, Florida

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SUNRISE, Fla. - When Roberto Luongo grabbed the microphone prior to the Florida Panthers' first home game following the Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the veteran goaltender was addressing far more than the crowd on hand.

Like the rest of the community, Luongo was shaken. A long-time Parkland resident and father of two overflowing with a mixture of both sorrow and anger after 17 people - 14 students and three staff members - were killed just eight days earlier by a lone gunman on Valentine's Day.

"To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken for you guys," said Luongo, unable to hide his emotions. "There's not much to say. It's heartbreaking. You guys are in our thoughts. We've been thinking about you every day constantly for the last week. Just to know that we're there for you if you guys need anything. You'll be in our prayers. Let's try and move on together."

Video: Luongo's heartfelt words on hometown tragedy resonate

With those choked-up words, Luongo welcomed the entire community into the Panthers family, as players, coaches and staff spent the following months doing whatever they could to help the healing process, from giving the MSD hockey team a day with the Stanley Cup to spearheading a wide variety of charitable outreach efforts created in honor and in remembrance of the victims.

But on the one-year anniversary of that tragic day, Luongo's message was far more subdued.

Prior to hosting the Calgary Flames on Thursday, Luongo didn't make a public address, but still got his message across. Taking the ice for warmups, he donned a special MSD-themed mask, one that featured several tributes, including 17 burning candles to mark each of the lives lost.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: #MSDStrong pic.twitter.com/m0eF0VzSG1

A long-time Parkland resident himself, Panthers goaltending coach Robb Tallas said the idea for the mask came to him not long after the shooting had occurred, when everyone in and around the community found themselves sharing the same collective thought - what can we do to help?

"It was the first thing I thought of," said Tallas, who has been Florida's goalie coach since 2009. "But then when I got it, I wasn't 100-percent sure what to do with it. It was near the end of the season, so I just kind of kept it at my house. I showed Lu, so he knew about it… We decided to wait a year on it, let it settle down and then figure out the best way to show what it means to us."

In order to create the mask, Tallas enlisted the help of his longtime friend and former neighbor Dom Malerba of Pro Choice Masks. The two had previously worked together when Tallas was in the NHL and on several other chartable projects after he had retired from pro hockey in 2005.

"I reached out to him wondering if we could do a tribute mask," Tallas said. "He didn't even think twice about it. He was like, 'Yep. I'm going to get my painter on it. We'll figure something out.' He knew the situation, obviously. Without any detail or getting into anything, him and his painter sent that mask back to me. It's incredible. We wanted to wait a year to make sure we did the right thing with it… With how involved he is in this community, I wanted Lu to be a part of it."

On Thursday, Luongo found the mask resting in his stall. Exactly one year later, it was time.

The mask, which was donated by Malerba, quickly made its rounds across social media and various hockey outlets. From the design to the man wearing it, those that saw the images were quickly reminded of Luongo's moving words and the tragic event that unfolded just a year ago.

There are few items of equipment in sports that are more iconic that a goaltender's mask, and in this moment Luongo had turned his into something far bigger than just a piece of protection. For a community still in mourning, it served as the perfect symbol of remembrance on a tough day.

"If it's getting an impact, if it's getting recognition, that's what I hope for," Tallas said. "Obviously having a guy like Lu being able to put it on like that, shows his character and how much he cares. I'm so grateful for that."

With the Panthers honoring the families of the shooting victims on Sunday, Luongo's mask will move into the team's "Den of Honor," where it will remain forever as part of a larger MSD tribute, further cementing the ties between the team and the community that continue to heal together.

"The connection's real," Tallas said. "I think that's the most important thing. So many of us live in this community. Some of us, like Lu and myself, will make this home for life. Some will enjoy their time here for however many years and move on.

"But I think that anything like this, it has to bring you closer. It's just a hard thing to talk about…. In saying that, it happened. All the positive stuff you can build off it and learn from it, I think that's the most important message. I think what those kids and parents have done is incredible."

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