TORONTO – On Monday night, Roberto Luongo was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF), forever acknowledging him as one of the greatest hockey players to ever live.
His career was an extremely successful one, with six all-star appearances, two Olympic gold medals, 489 career wins – which ranks fourth all-time, and becoming the first goalie to captain an NHL team in 60 years.
Besides a 24 game spell with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000, Luongo spent the entirety of his 19-season Hall of Fame career with the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. Luongo became the first player who spent the majority of their career with the Panthers (572 of 1,044 games) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Over the weekend, Luongo reminisced on his long professional hockey career. The Canadian media was very keen on hearing about the triumphs of the 2010 Olympics, which Lu was more than happy to discuss. The story of how Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal came to be because Lu moved the puck to Scott Niedermayer behind the net rather than freezing it was the tale that he told.
When asked about which team he’d prefer to represent as he went into the Hall, Lu went with the safe answer, “Team Canada.”
As big of a star Lu was during his playing days with the Canadian national team, he was just as much of an icon in Vancouver and Florida. “Luuuu” chants echoed through Scotiabank Arena when he was presented his Hall of Fame blazer by Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald. The same chants were heard on the red carpet of Meridian Hall as Luongo stepped out of the limo and inside the venue as he took the stage on induction night.
The HHOF induction ceremonies were a fun experience for all involved. The inductees spent the weekend with their families and former teammates.
Former Florida Panthers captain and now Luongo’s colleague in the Florida front office, Bryan McCabe, was in Toronto for the induction, he spoke about his time with Lu.
“It’s been awesome (working with him), he’s a really intelligent guy, brings a lot to the table and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him off the ice over the last few years,” McCabe said.
Going into the Hall alongside Luongo were his former Canucks teammates, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Both players mentioned Lu in their induction speeches.
“Being inducted into the hall of fame is truly an honor but doing it alongside Roberto makes it so much more special,” Daniel said. “You raised the standards on our team and made everyone believe that average was never an option. I’m proud to call you a friend.”
Henrik spoke about the culture the Canucks core had during their best years and said Lu was at the forefront of that.
“Roberto, you were the face of that culture, I’ve never been around anyone with the same determination and willingness to do anything to get better, it’s an honor to be here tonight with you,” Henrik said.
As a Montreal native, Luongo joined an elite cast of Quebec goalies to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The likes of Jacques Plante, Georges Vezina, Martin Brodeur, Rogie Vachon and Patrick Roy were all legends in their own right, hailing from the Canadian province.
“It was a big part of our upbringing to know that all of these great Quebec goalies are some of the best goalies in the world,” Luongo said. “I wanted to be like them… just to be able to say that I’m going into the same Hall of Fame as they are, it’s a tremendous honor.”
The humble nature of Lu, as it always is, was on full display this weekend. He took the time to recognize some key figures that got him where he was today.
Lu told me that one goaltender he wanted to style his game after as a teenager was former Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, Patrick Roy. In his early years, he was able to learn under Roy’s former goalie coach, Francois Allaire.
“The one (coach) that really made me who I was is Francois Allaire,” Luongo said. “He’s the one that really installed the technical part of the game in me… he really kicked off my career and gave me a solid foundation to build off of.”
Lu came to South Florida as a young man in 2000. He was in his early twenties, with just 24 NHL games under his belt. Five years later in 2006 when he was traded to Vancouver, he left South Florida as a bonafide star in the league, playing in 317 games with the Panthers. During his first stint in Florida, Lu would also meet his wife Gina – with the help of a former teammate.
“I remember after one practice Scott Mellanby came up to me and said, I want to take you to an Italian place… the owner wants to meet you,” Luongo said.
“After a little bit of time he started inviting me over to the house, I was having dinner there, it was like another family,” Luongo said during his induction speech. “Wouldn’t you know they had a daughter, and that happens to be the love of my life, Gina.”
While Mellanby will forever live in the memory of Panthers fans for being the player who killed the rat in the locker room during their run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, Luongo remembered his former teammate over the weekend for changing his life, literally.
The best years of Luongo’s career were undoubtedly when he was in Vancouver. In his eight year run with the Canucks, they made the playoffs six times, won six division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and went to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
When the NHL went on break for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Luongo led Canada to the top of the hockey world as they defeated the Americans in overtime to claim the gold medal, with over 16 million people watching across the country. To this day people in Canada still talk about Luongo’s play in that tournament.
While the Vancouver Luongo teams had consistent playoff appearances and a roster which would see multiple players become Hall of Famers, it was the complete opposite for Lu’s Panthers teams.
Florida never made the playoffs in the first five years they had Luongo between the pipes. When he returned to the Panthers in March of 2014 for his second go, Lu had one goal: take the Panthers to the playoffs.
“With the Panthers, when I came back on my second stint I was dead set on it, I wanted to make the playoffs with them,” Luongo said. “When I got traded back… a lot of people thought I was going to run into the sunset as they said, but for me I really wanted to witness a playoff series with that team.”
In 2016, that Panthers playoff dream would happen. This time around, Lu had a series of future NHL stars around him, with the likes of a young Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad. Florida faced off against the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders in the first-round. Unfortunately, the Panthers didn’t win the series and Lu never got to play with that Panthers core in their prime. That would be the only time Luongo reached the postseason with the team before retiring in 2019.
Today, Lu is still with the Panthers organization in a front office role. He currently serves as the Special Advisor to General Manager Bill Zito.
His ties to the South Florida community will always be there. He is the first Panther player to have his jersey retired, while also being inducted into the Hall with most of his career being spent in a Panthers uniform. His wife was born and raised in the area and they have brought up their family there.
“I think It’s a great place to bring up your family, that’s why we made it our home… it’ll always be home for me, I enjoy living there and it’s a great place to raise a family,” Luongo said.
With his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Roberto Luongo will forever be remembered by hockey fans for his stellar on ice play, his off the ice personality (especially his Twitter account) and all that he’s accomplished with Team Canada, Vancouver and Florida. He now rightfully has his place amongst hockey’s greatest legends and will so for the rest of time.