Cheers of “Luuuuu!” once again rang out at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena on Thursday as the Canucks honoured a trio of former players.
The familiar oratory ovations came as former goalie Roberto Luongo stood at centre ice with his former teammates, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. All three were recognized for their recent inductions to the Hockey Hall of Fame before a game between the Canucks and Florida Panthers.
Luongo thanked the standing crowd for supporting the trio.
“On a personal note, I really wanted to thank you guys for pushing me to be a better goaltender, pushing me to be a better person every single night,” he added.
Video tributes narrated by former coach Alain Vigneault played on the big screen and each of the three players received a traditional blanket from First Nations leaders. Flanked by the Sedins, Luongo performed the ceremonial puck drop.
Rogers Arena has long held a special place for Luongo.
It’s the rink where he backstopped Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 and the venue where he and his Canucks teammates reached the Stanley Cup final in 2011 before falling in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.
“Those playoff runs, those were the best moments of my career,” the netminder told reporters earlier on Thursday. “So I want to be able to kind of relive them a little bit here, the next little while and take it in and thank the fans for everything. I think it’s a nice way to cap it all off.”
It won’t be the last time the 43-year-old Montreal native is recognized before a Vancouver crowd. The Canucks announced Wednesday that he’ll join the team’s Ring of Honour next season.
“It’s a great honour. I’m really excited about it,” said Luongo, who now serves as Florida’s director of goaltending and as a special adviser to general manager Bill Zito. “It’s nice to see that the work that I put in here for eight years is going to get recognized and I’m very grateful to be able to go up there with those guys.”
Originally drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 1997, Luongo spent eight seasons with the Canucks.
During his time in Vancouver, the team made the playoffs five seasons in a row. It was a special group that made that run, the netminder said.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “And sometimes when you’re in it, you don’t kind of realize it. But then you move on, you play for other teams, teams change. And now that you look back, it’s like you realize how special the group was and it was a unique group, right?
“We had different types of personalities in the locker room. And I think that’s what made us so good.”
Luongo closed out his career with the Panthers, spending five seasons in Florida’s crease before announcing his retirement after the 2018-19 season.
He remains the Canucks’ franchise leader in wins (252) and shutouts (38), and tops the list in save percentage (.919) and goals-against average (2.36) among goalies who played at least 100 games.
That success has prompted many in Vancouver to muse about whether his jersey should be retired — a decision Luongo said is out of his control.
He told the crowd Thursday night that neither honour is at the top of his mind.
“I know there’s a lot of debate about the Ring of Honour and the (jersey retirement) but that stuff doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “What matters to me is moments like this and sharing it with you guys.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press