February 23, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – In announcing his promotion to Team Canada's starting goalie, Roberto Luongo's(notes) exuberance was uncontainable. He grinned, he laughed, he acted like a kid given the keys to his first new car – or, perhaps, like a goalie who knows he may never get another chance to lead his country to gold.
"You never know. That's why I'm really going to enjoy it tomorrow," he said.
Is he ready?
This is Luongo's moment. The moment he actually achieves the elite status that's bestowed on him, sometimes begrudgingly, by the hockey world. The moment he becomes a clutch goalie in championship situations. The moment Canada embraces him with the same cherished regard that it does Brodeur.
He doesn't have to be perfect. He needs to be competent and timely, according to Coach Mike Babcock. "We're in the winning business. Winning a game at any level, you need big saves," he said. "You need momentum changing saves. And we're looking for Loo to do that for us."
Check his international stats: Luongo's been a money goalie, and that's not counting his shutout win against Norway in the Vancouver Games. "Obviously I've played in world championships, world juniors, and playoffs," said Luongo. "This one I'm excited about."
His career Stanley Cup playoff stats: 22 games, 11-11, a 2.09 GAA and a .930 save percentage. We all remember him getting tagged with seven goals when the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in last season's playoffs. Less memorable, but perhaps more important, is the fact that he stopped 19 shots in a 4-1 Game 7 win back in 2007, and stopped 56 of 58 shots in a Game 5 series-elimination loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the following round.
But without a championship, or even a Vezina, Luongo's accomplishments are underappreciated. Is this the moment that changes?
"I don't think that way," said Luongo. "I think about playing my best game tomorrow, and then you move on. I don't think it's good to think too much ahead or what could be. But it'll obviously be exciting."
Luongo used "exciting" several times in his chat with the media, and it's hard to imagine that enthusiasm won't carry over to a team that's been humbled by its neighbor to the south. The loss to the U.S. is a course correction for the Canadians, something defenseman Drew Doughty(notes) said could be a positive thing.
"If we blow out that game too, maybe we go into that round cocky," he said. "It's almost a learning curve. Losing that game makes us sit back, think about things. Make sure we come out hard in the next one."
Said Luongo: "I think we played well [against the U.S.]. We're confident in the guys we have in the locker room. But there's a fine line between winning and losing, and the littlest details make a difference."
It's the little lapses that have killed the Canadians: in judgment, goaltending, intensity. Inserting Luongo seeks to correct some of these problems. There's no question he embraces the task.
"This is a big stage. That's your job as an athlete, to be ready all the time," he said.
If Canada rallies for gold and beats Germany, Russia, potentially Sweden, and then another quality club in the gold-medal game, they're going to need some heroes. Luongo has the chance to be one of them. Succeed, and his legacy is cemented. Fail, and it's "the guy who's never won anything."
That's the moment of truth Luongo faces.