Florida Panthers’ Luongo settles into familiar spot
03/07/2014 12:01 AM
03/16/2014 9:49 PM
Roberto Luongo spoke of “returning to normalcy” before practicing with the Panthers for the first time since 2006 on Thursday morning.
Aside from the Vancouver-themed green-and-blue protective pads underneath his black practice jersey, it looked like Luongo had never left.
He even dug up his old Pink Panther-themed mask with palm trees painted on it from a closet and dusted it off.
“I’m not used to wearing the red, but it was nice to get on the ice and just do what I do,’’ said Luongo, whom the Panthers reacquired in a trade with the Canucks on Tuesday.
“I stopped some pucks, moved around there and had a good time trying to get to know my new teammates.’’
Florida originally traded Luongo to Vancouver in a lopsided deal on the eve of the 2006 NHL Draft conveniently held in the Canadian city.
And although Luongo spent countless hours practicing at the Panthers’ training facility — he paid the team out of his own pocket for the privilege — during the offseason and 2012 lockout, he was not allowed inside the locked doors leading to the team’s headquarters.
On Thursday, Luongo was finally given access to all the good stuff, which included Tim Thomas’ old locker stall. The Panthers didn’t have a nameplate ready for Luongo yet, but that will be ready soon.
“I work out here during the summer but not in this locker room,’’ said Luongo, wearing a red Panthers dri-fit T-shirt.
“This is very nice over here, beautiful stuff. I’ve never been over here. It’s great. I couldn’t believe how nice it was when I walked in [Thursday] morning. I didn’t know they had all these amenities in here.’’
On Wednesday, the Panthers sent Thomas to Dallas, getting backup goalie Dan Ellis in return. Florida then sent Scott Clemmensen, Thomas’ backup here, to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
Since Ellis has never played with the Panthers, he didn’t have any old gear to bring in as Luongo did. He practiced in his green Dallas pads with matching helmet.
Ellis is signed through next season, so he’ll be getting some Florida-themed equipment very soon.
“This is a team that has been putting in pieces for the longest time,’’ said Ellis, who has a 4-2-3 record against the Panthers in his seven-year NHL career.
“There have been great people around here, great veterans. I think the new ownership gives stability. In Dallas, new ownership stabilized the team, same in Tampa. That does a lot for you and gives you the ability to grow out. We have some great young players, really good veterans, just picked up a world-class goalie. It’s a good place to be.’’• Center Vincent Trocheck is expected to have a number of family members at the BB&T Center for Friday’s game against the Sabres as the 20-year-old makes his NHL debut.
The Panthers on Wednesday recalled Trocheck, who is leading San Antonio in scoring this season. Trocheck replaces Marcel Goc — who was traded to Pittsburgh, Trocheck’s hometown — on Wednesday.
“I’m extremely excited,’’ Trocheck said. “I got the call at 3:30, had to be on a plane by 6. I was there early, for sure. It’s a dream come true, my goal since I was 5 years old.’’• Drew Shore was sent back to San Antonio despite playing well with the Panthers before and after the Olympic break.
“This gives Vinnie a chance to come up,’’ coach Peter Horachek said. “There’s a league rule about how many games you can play before you need waivers. He’s done a good job, I like Drew Shore. From the first time he got called up, he approached it with a real professional attitude. He knew he was going to be a fourth-liner, knew he would kill penalties. He did it with a passion and had an impact.’’• Thomas took part Dallas’ Thursday morning skate before their game with Vancouver, who coincidentally had former Panthers Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom working with their new teammates after coming over in the Luongo deal.
Thomas, like Ellis, was wearing his old equipment at practice, Florida’s red-and-blue color scheme clashing with Dallas’ kelly green.
In meeting with reporters, Thomas said he was happy to be on a team contending for a playoff spot and said he talked to the Panthers before the Luongo trade about the possibility about being shipped to a contender. The Luongo trade, he said, only facilitated things.
“From the Florida Panthers’ perspective,’’ Thomas said, “they’re looking at it as something to shore up their goaltending for a very long time. They did what they thought was best for their organization.’’
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