It was the middle of a work afternoon last March when I found out about Luongo being traded back to Florida; I checked twitter, saw confirmation, saw the infamous @strombone1 palm tree tweet, and then my phone blew up with a variety of text messages from all over, from anyone and everyone. It Finally Happened.
I can’t remember everyone’s exact reactions — shock, mostly — because trading Luongo over the course of a couple of seasons had proven to be difficult and then all of a sudden he was gone, just like that. Good on ya, Torts. Way to be. I had gotten past the idea of being upset about Luongo not being on my team. All I wanted was for him to be happy somewhere else because clearly that wasn’t the case here, not anymore.
I don’t need to get into too many specifics, because we all know the narrative and how much of a toxic, goalie-graveyard this city is; even more-so when your number one goaltender is one of the best in the league, which obviously means there’s no margin for error when you’re an elite goaltender (could I BE any more sarcastic?).
I, like so many others, was angry at the way he was treated for so long. Mine stemmed all the way back to 2009 during the second round of the playoffs against Chicago, when the Canucks were eliminated 7-5, an embarrassing deficit, in Game 6. Every time I heard Chelsea Dagger after that it was literally like a dagger to the heart; a reminder of how many times the Blackhawks had scored that game and, of course, Patrick Kane’s hattrick. I hated him for so long after that (my appreciation of Patrick Kane has changed since then). I hated the way people blamed Luongo solely on the loss, for letting in 7 goals, but the Canucks only scored 5 and defence was also abysmal. The only thing anyone ever remembered is the score and losses ultimately get pinned on the goalie.
I felt the same in 2010 when, on literally the exact same day 365 days later, the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks again in 6 games. This time the loss came on home ice in a 5-1 outing and the only good thing about that loss was at least we didn’t have to hear Chelsea Dagger five times.
Fast-forward to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston in 2011 (this is where I pause because I can’t believe it’s already been almost 4 years). We all remember the score. We all remember the way our hearts sank when the first Bruins goal was scored and the entire city of Vancouver fell silent because I think we all knew it was over then. We wanted to believe, we really did, but deep down we knew the Canucks weren’t going to come up for air, even though the score was only 1-0. Then the Bruins added 3 more goals and the Canucks did nothing, except watch as the most elite trophy in sports was paraded around by the other team in their own arena.
The aftermath, we won’t talk about because we know what happened to the city of Vancouver. Sell your riot jokes some place else, we’re all stocked up here. Luongo was blamed for a 4-0 loss in the most important game of his life (other than the Gold Medal Game just a year before — and even then it’s iffy because a late goal by the US was scored to send the game to overtime. Luckily, Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada, and that’s who our golden boy was. I don’t think the script could write itself more if it tried).
Sure, Luongo isn’t perfect — I’m not claiming that he is — I know there’s saves he could’ve made, I know defence can only do so much themselves, but the same goes for Luongo. Offense didn’t pull through to score goals to win these games, especially in a 4-0 deficit in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins scored four goals, the Canucks scored absolutely zero to put themselves in the game; it doesn’t take rocket science to figure this out. How so much blame fell on Luongo for this one still boggles my mind nearly four years later.
The seasons following were painful and it was clear Luongo had been wanting out long before the trade inevitably happened, but he always handled things with dignity and said the right things; whether he believed it or not is another story, but he consistently put on a brave face and was far more diligent than he should’ve been. Even when Torts gave Eddie Lack the start to the Heritage Classic (not that Eddie Lack didn’t deserve it so to speak, but it goes without saying that this was was Luongo’s stage, and not getting the start ultimately led to his trade), he still handled it the best way he could.
I don’t blame him for wanting out of here; it bothered me more than anything that we took such an elite goaltender for granted, who helped give the team and its fans some of the best seasons this franchise has ever seen. I don’t think a lot of Canucks fans realise how lucky we were to have him between the pipes, and so many couldn’t drive him out of this town fast enough if they tried.
He’s back tonight, for the first time since being traded back to the team we initially traded with to get him in the first place, way back in 2006. I’ll get to see it, as a blogger guest in the Canucks Social Suite with a number of others, and I’m excited to share this experience with these people, and with those who share as much of a deep appreciation of Luongo as I. It’ll be special. It’ll be emotional. I think there’s a large part in all of us who will be Luuuuu’ing for him tonight.
As we should be.