Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchies: Why Vancouver will never forget Roberto Luongo or his Ring of Honour Night
2 months ago
It’s not often that a game goes perfectly according to the script you wrote in your head.
In fact, it happens quite rarely.
Despite me penning a game in which Pavel Bure tied up game 7 in 1994 in the dying seconds of the game, only for Trevor Linden to elbow Mark Messier in the face mere seconds before getting his hat trick goal in overtime, the NHL refused to use it.
I also submitted a script where Dan Hamhuis came walking out of the stands to jump on the ice to help lead the Canucks to a shutout victory over the Boston Bruins in 2011, but yet again, I was shut down.
But for every hundred games that don’t go the way you want them to, there are a few games where everything goes perfectly.
Before tonight, there was the Sedins’ last home game. They ended it with a script so unbelievable that I am still shocked the team ran with it. But walking off the ice to an overtime goal scored by Daniel Sedin, assisted by Henrik Sedin, at 2:33 of overtime, with Holiday blasting in the background? Even Michael Bay felt nobody would believe that one.
Yet here we find ourselves, on a night in which Roberto Luongo entered the Ring of Honor, talking about a game in which the Canucks won 4-0 over the Florida Panthers. On a night in which Thatcher Demko played so flawlessly that part of you wondered if the Panthers had agreed to honour their goalie guru by letting a shutout take place. Certainly Bobrovsky had to be in on it.
On a night in which Luongo’s emotions were on full display, on a night in which we all took a trip down memory lane into that wild ride known as the 2011 core, everything seemed to go just right for the home team.
As Luongo said before the game, it feels good to watch a Canucks team play so well. Hockey feels so much more vibrant and alive when the team actually matters, when the wins actually mean something.
In another season, the Oilers ripping off an eight game winning streak would have been the nail in the coffin for the Canucks playoff hopes. It would have been one of the most important stretches of the season, the implications of the winning streak hammering away at the Canucks.
But this year? It was simply Thursday.
Let’s make some gif money, shall we?
Back in the day, it was a huge controversy to anoint Roberto Luongo as the captain of the team. There were honestly intense debates amongst the fan base about who would take the ceremonial faceoffs. Please, won’t someone think of the ceremonial faceoffs?
It was chalked up as another “crazy Mike Gillis move!” sitting right up there beside the team looking into sleep doctors, or having food nutritionists on hand. There is a strict code amongst hockey men about how to try and win hockey games and gain every edge you can, but thinking outside of the box is usually not one of them.
And as we have seen since Gillis left town, most teams have adapted many of the new approaches he brought to the game, but I digress.
The main point is the Canucks had a lovely opening ceremony for Roberto, including gifting him with a jersey that had the “C” on it, something that honestly always bothered me back in the day:
You named the man captain. He should have had the “C” on his jersey. To this day, I still don’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to do so.
This led to the unveiling of Luongo in the Ring of Honor, somewhere Gino Odjick will hopefully soon be sitting:
All in all, the Canucks social media game in the lead-up to the game was handled well, and it honestly was a nice little ceremony. Your mileage may vary on if Luongo should have been given a car or whatever (a ’99 Corolla would have been money), but for the most part, it felt like a really nice way to honour Roberto.
And I know there is a debate about not retiring his number, and I have made my feelings known about that. But I do think there is something to be said about having a giant picture of yourself hanging in the rafters. It has its benefits. A banner with a number no one can wear? I get it, that’s cool, it’s a giant sign of respect.
But watching Roberto glower over you the rest of your life? That, in many ways, will have more impact. I have used the Ring of Honor countless times to locate someone or point something out. “Oh man, that guy under Kirk just fell down the stairs. I look forward to texting someone to keep an eye out for the person wearing the Ian Kidd jersey sitting underneath Luongo.
Besides, I am coming around to Michael Irvin’s view on retired numbers. Let players try and earn their spot beside famous numbers before them. Let them try and join the club of top players to wear venerated numbers. I like that system.
Best keep on keeping on
You know what doesn’t get rattled by any of the craziness of life? What doesn’t worry about all the noise surrounding them and just focuses on getting past the finish line?
Look, would it be nice if Garland would score a goal here and there? Of course it would be. Who wouldn’t want to watch Conor score so you could reflect upon losing the battle to try and get the team to change up the goal song.
But as Chris Parnell taught us back in 1999, the Corolla isn’t about being sexy, it’s about being a comfortable fit:
Pound for pound, there might be no better puck battle in the league than Conor Garland. You honestly find yourself getting excited anytime he enters the fray, just so you can see what he’s going to come up with next to make sure he doesn’t lose the puck. I would buy tickets in Vegas to a show in which he challenged people to try and win a puck off of him.
And all of that hard work from Garland leads directly to Andrei Kuzmenko having a straight line to the net, with not a single soul around for him to pass to. He only has one option and it’s to shoot the puck, which as everyone but Kuzmenko apparently knows, he can do very well.
In hockey cliches terms, this is called getting your groove back, Stella or otherwise.
In scientific terms, this is merely what happens when you purchase a Corolla Garland. There is no worrying when you have this
car in your life player on your line.
Now, I know Garland’s line has been fantastic as of late, so people might be hesitant to make changes to it. But you know what, Conor drives that line, so I would be very intrigued to put Kuzmenko alongside Garland at some point.
You put Garland with Kuzmenko and you guilt Andrei into shooting the puck because he feels bad watching Garland do all of that work on his behalf. It would be downright insulting if you watched Garland fend people off the puck for a minute straight just so you can do a couple of spins and a high risk pass.
No, you watch that kind of effort, you have to shoot that puck.
Best checking in with Rick Tocchet on Kuzmenko
“Yeah he had some energy tonight. That was a hell of a goal. You know, I thought he had some energy.”
OK, so it’s not great, but it’s not bad? Feels a lot like something the ultimate hype man Travis Green would say, but it could have been worse.
This is a hard league to score in, you know.
Best foot forward
Psst, power forwards don’t need five years in the NHL to figure out how to drive hard to the net more than once a month.
You don’t need a shotgun movement to celebrate winging in goals from odd angles in the corner.
I will say that I like to have fun with Rick Tocchet’s hammering away at North/South hockey because he name drops it so much. But damn it, the man has half the team driving to the net like their lives depend upon it. It’s a blast to watch.
I also feel like Tocchet just watches Sean Bean dying heroically in every movie as a way to pump himself up before games, but that’s an article for another day.
Best I Noah man who’s been playing better
Noah Juulsen was the direct target of much of my ire, back when I had fire deep in my…tire?
The point is, Juulsen has had himself a solid stretch of games lately. He is no longer going out of his way to directly anger me by hunting for huge hits, thus ruining the vaunted Tocchet structure.
Instead, he is picking his spots and making them count:
There is no one on the team landing heavier consistent hits than Noah Juulsen. And while he remains a work in progress, I do admit I now get a small tingle whenever I see him scanning the ice, trying to find something he can obliterate.
Apparently there is a direct correlation to happiness and watching hockey events that don’t result in horrible defensive zone coverage. Who knew.
Best too much man
Speaking of power forwards and meat slapping hockey, JT Miller is a new age NHL power forward. No, he isn’t slamming people into the ice or punching Harvard grads in the head, but he is someone who has no problem throwing his body around and stopping people in their tracks:
While Garland gets really low to the ice and uses that low center of gravity as the source of all his power, JT Miller simply stares you right in the eyes as he backs up right into you.
Basically if you ever get an open parking spot at the same time as JT Miller, Garland would be the guy who gets out of his car, slaps you, and then takes the spot while you exhaust yourself chasing him. JT Miller just drives in with his giant truck and takes that spot; no debate is necessary.
Best reliable ride
Every single time Florida tried to move the puck out of their own zone on this play, someone from the Corolla Garland line was right on top of them:
It’s exhausting to watch, but also heart-warming because you know how much mileage the Canucks are getting out of this ride.
The end result was Dakota Joshua popping in a nice backhander after spinning around to get himself open, as well as a whispered promise to Bobrovsky that he would see him later.
It was the kind of goal that Rick Tocchet felt was a long time coming.
“The way they’ve been playing, they’re going to start to score. I think we’ve all said it. But I think defensively they’re pretty damn good up there.”
Best he’s not wrong
I’m telling you, you will see games where a player dominates the offence on this chart, but still dips into defensive issues. They cheat a bit for their offence, which is fine when it works! If JT Miller wants to have a nine point game but subpar defensive metrics, I don’t think anyone is going to care too much about it.
But there is just something about being able to set your watch to
Johnny Unitas’ haircut Corolla Garland’s defensive play that is comforting. You just know he’s always walking out of a game on the positive side of the defensive ledger, this man don’t cheat in his own zone.
I have firmly gone from “maybe it’s time to move on from Garland” to “the third line will whither and die without him” in the span of two months.
Never doubt the Corolla.
Best Lu 2 intro
Thatcher Demko made his presence known near the end of the first period when he decided to bust out a Roberto Luongo-style save:
A loose rebound that ends with you going belly down to make a big desperation save? That’s Roberto Luongo hockey 101 right there. You cannot tell me that Demko didn’t plan to do that on purpose.
Getting a shutout on a night honouring Roberto Luongo wasn’t lost on Demko, either.
“It’s poetic right? Something was in the air. Just a really cool evening. He’s such a first class guy and you know I’m not super close with him, but every encounter I’ve had, he’s treated me with respect, and that’s always really cool coming from someone that you watched growing up. Just a really cool evening.”
Bonus points to Demko for going full Abed and dropping three “cool” references in one answer.
Best trading places
One of my favourite things in a hockey game is when both teams trade “Oh shit, we should have scored there,” chances.
First up was Bobrovsky showcasing a complete lack of awareness, which ended up being a spoiler alert:
The Panthers survived that close call and then almost ended up getting their first of the night when Matty Tkachuk slid the puck back through the crease on Demko:
The only thing missing from this sequence was Jim Hughson screaming something about great saves.
Honestly, I was kind of sad that they didn’t bring out Jim Hughson to cover the game for one more night. If you truly want to honour Roberto, you need Jim Hughson claiming a glove save was robbery, damn it.
Best vintage OEL
Much like a Randy Orton RKO out of nowhere, sometimes you just have to give the fans what they want:
It feels like just yesterday we were watching OEL patrol the Canucks’ blue line, shooting pucks into shins, all while we furiously Googled CapFriendly.
Best computer malfunction
This might be my favourite goal of the season:
First off, am I upset it wasn’t a pass directly to Brock Boeser? Of course I am. The man has a brand he’s building, you’d think the least Bob could do is help him with it.
But man alive, Corolla Garland goes steaming in, and you know Bobrovsky panics over this. He knows that’s Corolla Garland, so it’s not going to break down or run out of gas. He knows he has mere seconds to make a quick decision before Garland is all over him, safely driving him to a location of his choice.
So he checks, checks again, then checks one more time before saying to himself, “Yes, passing through the slot is the correct choice, this is something I am about to do” and he actually does it. He passes the puck right to Dakota Joshua and before he even scores the goal, Garland has his stick lifted in celebration.
Sheldon Dries probably says sometimes your intentions with your stick don’t always go as planned, so maybe lay off of Bobrovsky, but oh wow, that is a hard play to defend. I have watched this video countless times, and I still have no idea what Bob saw on the ice and what he calculated that made him think that pass was the correct choice.
Best setting goals and sticking to them
The way Boeser is scoring these goals is what’s most impressive about this season so far. Sure, the goals are ok I guess. But this isn’t rookie Brock Boeser using that All-Star shooting accuracy to pump the net full of goals.
No, this is Brock Boeser going to those soft spots on the ice, the lulls in coverage, that are allowing him to get open and utilize his natural shooting ability.
That and his natural finishing abilities on empty nets.
But mostly it’s the intelligence on display from Brock, which shouldn’t be shocking if you’ve watched his game evolve. Defensively, he’s always been one of the smarter players at being in the right position to sneak in and steal the puck. He would get some flack for “not being physical enough,” but give me a player who can steal the puck at will any day of the week.
So yes, it’s not too surprising that Brock, much like Hughes, Pettersson, and Kesler before him, have found ways to evolve his game to become a better player. That’s just what top level NHL players are able to do.
Best trying his best
Hey, every missed net drops a few hundred dollars off that future mega deal:
Sam Lafferty was not wanted by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They chose Ryan Reaves over him.
Best third period summary
The Canucks straight up set up shop in the third period, playing Sean McDermott prevent defence for the entire 20 minutes. It took them 14 minutes to get their first shot of the period on net.
But when Demko is in the zone, and you don’t give up any real estate in the middle of the ice, this is a remarkably effective way to close out games. And with the Canucks record heading into third periods with a lead being flawless, who am I to complain.
There were three highlights in the third, however.
The first was Hronek hammering away and hitting the post:
Notice once again how Garland is the stir that drives this drink, as he continues drive play every time he’s on the nice.
Then we saw a little bit of a forecheck swagger from Kuzmenko:
He even threw in a spin on that play! The important part is he shot the net instead of passing into three opponents.
And finally the first shot of the period, completed by Elias Pettersson:
Fun fact: That was the only shot of the period taken by the Canucks, as they got outshot 15-1 in the final frame. The team has really taken it to heart that they think they can close out any game they want when they’re up a goal in the third period, haven’t they?
Best serious goaltending
My favorite part of the media scrums? Trying to get Demko to admit he enjoys hockey more when the team is winning.
“You gotta be having a fair bit of fun, especially with how your team has played at home?”
“I’m playing hockey, so it’s fun.”
Travis Green would be proud.
Best by the numbers
Best jersey Botch
With a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to pay tribute to Luongo, you just knew the jersey Botch patrol was going to be on high alert, and you know what? They didn’t disappoint.
Again, nothing will ever feel as good as that Ian Kidd jersey, but we will do our best to continue this proud tradition.
Up first was an Alex Biega sighting, leading to a solid debate about which 55 was better, Biega or Shane O’Brien:
Up next we had a Michael Ferland sighting:
Ferland will always be iconic because he made an entire career off of kicking the shit out of Vancouver in 2015 to the point that Jim Benning never forgot it. To the point that Benning offered him a massive contract years later, seemingly based purely on that one memory.
Then we had the 96 era Pavel Bure appearance:
I like seeing McLean in that jersey, but my favorite is Alex Mogilny. Still, Pavel Bure is a good find.
Then we had a Noah Juulsen sighting:
Then we get to the really good stuff, as this Bryan Helmer jersey made an appearance:
If it wasn’t for that damn Ian Kidd jersey, I would have lost my shit over this jersey, but now it just all feels so pale in comparison.
Still, I do want to know the story behind this, as there are probably only 5 Helmer jerseys in existence, with four of them owned by Bryan himself.
And lastly, we had one of my favourite jersey sightings of the year:
Fun fact: I will argue until I am blue in the face that Andrew Cassels was a better fit with the West Coast Express than Brendan Morrison.
I am telling you, Andrew was a better passer.
Best off ice Luongo memory
BEST LISTEN TO THE LEGEND RIGHT NOW
Free the skate.
What more do I need to say?
When you have a Hall of Fame goalie, the best to ever play in that position for your franchise, demanding you free the skate?
You damn well listen.
Best impact of Roberto Luongo
With Luongo back in town, there has been no shortage of stories and angles to dive into. Whether it was his impact on the ice, his run to the cup in 2011, or a good spirited Reddit debate of was Luongo as good as Thatcher Demko, we could probably talk for weeks, if not months, about the career of the Montreal native.
One of the things that stands out to me the most, however, is the immediate impact he had on the team’s credibility. This is very much a situation where it feels like if you weren’t here for trade that sent Luongo to Vancouver, you won’t fully get it. Which I know sounds super shitty and feels like gatekeeping, but it is what it is.
“Oh, you just wouldn’t understand.” Wyatt said, sniffing the air with disdain as he took a sip of his finest Knappogue Castle whiskey.
But it’s true, if you weren’t here for the ride, you simply cannot understand the full impact of the Canucks landing Roberto Luongo in a trade. Not just because it marked the first time Dave Nonis got a win in a hockey deal, but because it marked the first time in a long time that the Canucks had acquired a coveted superstar. The closest thing to it was probably the Alex Mogilny trade, a deal where the Canucks were landing a big time superstar, and as a result, elevated the Canucks to feeling like a big time team.
Sure, the Canucks had superstars like Todd Bertuzzi of Markus Naslund and drafted players like the Hall of Fame Sedin twins. But they grew into top level players here. They didn’t enter the market as sure fire commodities. There is a reason Brian Burke felt he had to underline how Dave Gagner was not a throw in on the Jovanovski deal when he traded away Pavel Bure, and it’s because he was dealing in unsure commodities with #55. He had to sell that deal as a win in as many angles as possible because a rebuilding team is a much harder sell.
Going out and landing a highly coveted player is simply a different emotional beast. It creates the kind of buzz that has people in Toronto tracking flights out of Anaheim even at the slightest sniff of landing a top player. It is the clearest sign you can get from a team that they are all in on winning a championship, which understandably creates an intense air of excitement in a sports market.
Remember that photo of Mogilny and Bure arm wrestling in Canucks jerseys? It created such buzz in the air about the Canucks who, fresh off of failing to win the Cup in 1994, appeared ready to arm up with fire power by adding a player just a couple years removed from scoring 76 goals in a season. That’s the kind of thing that sells tickets. That’s the kind of thing that puts your team on the global map, leading media to demand your superstars recreate a scene out of Over the Top or perhaps an homage to the Predator handshake.
The point is, bringing in a player that any team in the league would kill to have? That’s just not the sort of thing that happens around these parts too often. It immediately felt like a “big deal” that the Canucks had somehow managed to land the next big thing in net.
And make no mistake about it, Roberto Luongo helped put the Canucks on the map on a national stage.
You see, it’s easy to get lost on the West Coast in regards to hockey coverage. Sure, Vancouver will always “put you on the map” so to speak over a team like Florida or Arizona, but if you want Pierre LeBrun waxing poetic about your trophy chances? It’s a far easier route to be playing out of the East. You see it now with Quinn Hughes, how he’s slowly turning some eyes towards the West Coast, coaxing eastern writers and fans to maybe stay up late once in a while to catch a game being played at Rogers Arena. But it’s rare that something in Vancouver can capture the imagination of the old boy network on the eastern time zone.
And back in 2o06, Luongo grabbed that spotlight and shone it firmly on Vancouver, because at the time, he was the next Marty Brodeur. He was the next Patrick Roy. He was the next Hasek. He was the next heir apparent, a goalie who was the only single reason to ever bother watching a Florida Panthers game. A goalie who, if just given the chance on a better team, would surely follow the career path of all goalie greats by winning Vezinas and Stanley Cups.
The goalie market has changed since then, of course. The days of there being only a handful of top-tier goalies doesn’t really exist anymore. It feels like any goalie can come in and go on a solid one to three-season heater, playing at a high enough level to help a team win a Cup. The goalie factory is in full swing in the NHL, allowing former Coyote third rounders like Adin Hill to waltz in and win a Cup for a team like Vegas.
But back in Luongo’s prime, he was the end of the one-man army era of goalies who would play 75 games in a season. It’s actually kind of incredible to think about that. Thatcher Demko played a career high 64 games in a season once, and it felt like it took his body years to recover from it. Luongo played 60+ games in a season nine times, including a four year stretch split between Florida and Vancouver where he played 72, 75, 76 and 73 games respectively, all while putting up sparkling numbers.
So yes, Roberto Luongo landing in Vancouver? That was a big deal. Made even bigger by the fact that the team hadn’t had consistent goaltending since Kirk McLean’s heater in 1994 wore off. They had run through a who’s who of goalies in trying to find the next consistent starter. Want a fun trip down memory lane? Here’s how the Canucks went from Kirk McLean to Roberto Luongo.
Kirk Mclean, Corey Hirsch, Mike Fountain, Arturs Irbe, Sean Burke, Garth Snow, Kevin Weekes, Mike Valley, Felix Potvin, Corey Schwab, Alfie Michaud, Manny Legace, Bob Essensa, Dan Cloutier, Peter Skudra, Alex Auld, Tyler Moss, Johan Hedberg, Chris Levesque, and ending with my favourite “why is this our life, somebody please this stop” season of Maxime Ouellet, Mika Noronen, and Rob McVicar.
So yes, it was a bit of an emotional journey to go from the highs of Kirk McLean’s legendary 1994 Cup run, to the lows of Garth Snow’s lacrosse shoulder pads.
Landing Roberto Luongo answered a goaltending question the team had been trying to answer for more than a decade, and if we’re being honest with each other, for almost the franchise’s entire existence. For every McLean or Richard Brodeur, there were twenty Steve Weeks leering at you from around the corner.
Suddenly the Vancouver Canucks, yes, your Vancouver Canucks, had landed the top available goaltender on the market. Not the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not the New York Rangers. The Vancouver Canucks were the team that had managed to land a goaltender with a skill set the city had dared not dream about.
So while Roberto Luongo and Willie Mitchell posing with new contracts lacked the dramatic flair of Bure and Mogilny clutching fists over a table, the impact was just as big, if not bigger: The Vancouver Canucks were a team to be reckoned with. Sure, the West Coast Express was a fun story, but they were the team that lost to the Minnesota Wild. They were a team that let Darby Hendrickson end their season. They were the team with that goalie who appeared in some of hockey’s first memes, with photoshopped beachballs as far as the eye could see.
How seriously could you really take them?
But you add in a goalie that regularly won games for Florida all by himself? You add in a goalie who you can lean on for 70+ games in a season? You add in a superstar goalie that would be willing to fight through high intensity bowel movements to make it back on the ice to try and keep a playoff overtime going? That’s the kind of thing that sells worldwide.
And you know where else it sells? The team itself. The fan base. The city. The dedication to perfection, the commitment to the game of hockey, the ultimate desire to win at all costs — that set a tone for the team. It began a culture of winning in Vancouver that they took all the way to the Cup finals in 2011. Not enough is made about the leadership Luongo brought to the team, but there is a reason he is the only NHL goaltender to be named a captain. And in true Gladiator fashion, he knew exactly when to step aside and hand the “C” over to Henrik.
There are, of course, a ton of other moving parts in the Canucks’ rise to the 2011 run, and the juggernaut team they would become. The Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, we could list name after name of players who stepped up and were a huge part of all of that. And this clearly became the Sedins’ team at one point in terms of being the players who kept this city on the forefront of the global hockey conscience.
But the player who started that movement? The player that put the league on notice that this wasn’t your grandma’s Vancouver Canucks? The player who made people around the league take them seriously?
That starts and stops with one name: Roberto Luongo.
Best in his own words
Everything that mattered in Roberto Luongo’s career, he did during his time with Vancouver. End of story.
Which is why his favourite win of all time was the game seven win against Chicago in 2011. Because it mattered.
Everything mattered back then because it was the prime of Luongo’s career. It was the prime of the 2011 core run.
That feud with Chicago was the stuff of legends. Everyone was invested in it. Every game, it felt like the stakes were so high. The amount of emotions the fans put into games and watching this team was something we have never seen before and haven’t seen since.
There is a reason it felt like it was everyone in the world vs Vancouver in 2011, because it was. Vancouver was on its own island, watching one of the best teams to ever play the game, being attacked by seemingly every other fan base in the league.
That mentality just heightened everything. That 2011 Finals is still one of the nastiest Stanley Cup series we have ever seen. There is a reason some of the players from that series still don’t like each other.
Because it mattered.
For as much as Roberto Luongo helped put Vancouver on the map, the fans repaid that favour by putting everything of themselves into that team.
That is why Roberto Luongo will always remember Vancouver.
And that is why Vancouver will never ever forget Roberto Luongo.
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