Florida Panthers

No long flight west for Florida Panthers’ Roberto Luongo

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo makes a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in Sunrise, Fla. Luongo made 37 saves as the Panthers defeated the Senators 3-2 in a shootout.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo makes a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators, Tuesday, March 25, 2014 in Sunrise, Fla. Luongo made 37 saves as the Panthers defeated the Senators 3-2 in a shootout. AP

One recent morning, goalie Roberto Luongo finished up his workout on the ice in Coral Springs and headed into the Panthers’ locker room to shed his gear.

Not long afterward, he piled into his sports car and made the short drive home.

In past years, Luongo would have already been packed up and on a plane headed west to training camp in Vancouver.

There would be no long flight west for Luongo this year.

“It’s been the same offseason for me, but the final few weeks were strange knowing I didn’t have to pack up my stuff,” said Luongo, who was traded from Florida to Vancouver in 2006 before being re-acquired by the Panthers in March.

“I’m excited to be here at this time of year. I’m definitely excited about the team; [I] like the veteran players we brought in.”

Luongo became a star in Vancouver, his image plastered throughout British Columbia and western Canada.

Vancouver was one of the NHL’s top teams during Luongo’s seven full seasons there. The Canucks twice won the Presidents’ Trophy for most points in a season.

The Canucks struggled in the postseason, however, and the clock on Luongo leaving Vancouver started not long after the Canucks lost the final two games of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to Boston.

Vancouver’s undisputed starter — Luongo won 193 of 327 games from 2006 to ’11 — became embroiled in a goalie controversy, first with Cory Schneider (traded to New Jersey before the 2013-14 season) and then with Eddie Lack.

Coach John Tortorella, fired after just one season in Vancouver, got the trade winds going by starting Lack over Luongo in the Heritage Classic on March 2.

Luongo’s agent was told he could start shopping his client, and he quickly called the Panthers.

Three days later, Luongo was headed back to Florida.

“Last year, when I got here, I was just excited to be here. I didn’t care what the team’s record was,” said Luongo, who started 14 games last season for Florida and went 6-7-1 with a .924 save percentage. “I knew I was coming in for the future, and I’m excited to see how we progress.”

On Friday, Luongo started his first training camp with the Panthers since 2005.

Much has changed since he left, from the front office to his teammates and even the training facility in Coral Springs.

Although he isn’t playing for one of the league’s premier teams anymore, Luongo said his will to win is stronger than ever. Luongo has never played in a playoff game with the Panthers, and he wants to change that.

“He’s a world-class goalie who wanted to be here,” Florida goalie coach Robb Tallas said.

One big reason the Panthers are looked at as a potential playoff team this season is because they have Luongo in net.

Now 35, Luongo is still considered to be one of the top goalies in the league, playing on what has been one of the league’s lowest-scoring teams.

If the Panthers are to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, Luongo, the franchise’s leader in games played by a goalie, wins, saves and shutouts, will have to lead the way.

▪ The Panthers practice Sunday at the Coral Springs IceDen from 10 a.m. to 11:15a.m., and they will scrimmage from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments