Surreality and the Panthers started running together when grey Afro-ed original coach Roger Neilson rode his bike to his office in a former bingo parlor. Evidence they still hang together: Roberto Luongo and Sunday’s game against Vancouver.
You’ve got the Panthers old new goalie playing against his newly old team less than two weeks after he was sent back from whence he’d come nearly eight years ago. Part of the impetus: not being started in an outdoor game, The Heritage Classic vs. Ottawa.
“Obviouslyit had something to do with it,” Luongo said with a distinct pause after the first word. “It put the wheels in motion. Who knows? I couldn’t get a trade done for a year and a half, so I don’t know how it happened in two days. But definitely something weird there was going on when I got back from the Olympics.”
Yeah, the Panthers often have trouble bringing home the big Ws, but never bringing a big other W, as in “Weird.”
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“I don’t know if it’ll mean more [to win], but it’s going to be weird,” Luongo said. “I was in that other locker room just a week and a half ago. It’s the first time I was traded during the season so I don’t know how I’m going to feel, but it’s definitely going to feel weird.”
When the Islanders shockingly traded Luongo to the Panthers, they did so at the 2000 NHL Draft. When then-general manager Mike Keenan traded Luongo, he kept alive the Panthers’ tradition of being draft day newsmakers by doing so at the 2006 draft (in Vancouver, no less).
“Everybody knows everybody’s tricks,” Luongo said of Sunday. “It’s going to be more about mind games than anything else.”
Former Panther and current Canuck David Booth said, “He’s one of the best goalies around and I know he’s happy to be back here. Last year all the talk was about our goalies so we thought it was over. Trades sometime come when you least expect them.”
Which sounds similar to what Luongo said about Vancouver: “Most of what’s happened the last few years, whatever you expect, the opposite happens.”
Luongo caught himself a couple of times using another W, “we,” when talking about Vancouver’s season. Canadian media, recently in Boca Raton for the NHL general managers meetings, stayed to cover this matchup of the 2010 Olympics gold medal-winning goalie who came one win from being the first Stanley Cup-winning goalie for a Canadian-based team since Patrick Roy against a dissembled disaster.
“We were playing really well. We were right where we wanted to be in December,” he said. “Guys started to fall down and get hurt. A lot of stuff happened around the team. You can’t really put your finger on it. It’s tough to see something like that, especially with the fact that we’ve always been battling at the top of the standings and stuff like that.”
He stopped with a smile, “Maybe I shouldn’t say, “we” anymore.”
Luongo summed up his time in Vancouver with, “It was a great run, I’m looking to move on. [Sunday] is going to be a good closure on it.”