Florida Panthers

Journey reaches happy point for Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is checked after colliding with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, in Washington.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is checked after colliding with Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015, in Washington. AP

Roberto Luongo doesn’t exactly know how the Canucks’ faithful will greet him when he steps onto the ice Thursday night.

In his typical smart-aleck way, Luongo says it will be fine whether they offer cheers or jeers.

“Lou’s and boos all sound the same,” Luongo said Tuesday afternoon.

“I won’t be able to tell the difference. I just want to enjoy the game.”

Luongo was back on the ice at Rogers Arena for the first time Tuesday since Vancouver traded him back to the Panthers last March.

For three years, Luongo had faced scrutiny as he had gone from savior of the Canucks after arriving here from Florida in 2006 to being just another goalie — albeit one with a massive contract — fighting for playing time.

After Vancouver lost the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals to Boston, faith in Luongo eroded.

The Canucks held a 3-2 series lead before the Bruins stormed back.

“I’ve moved on, but my time here was great,” Luongo said. “I’m just disappointed I wasn’t able to bring a Cup here. This market wants one more than anything. That’s the one thing I’m disappointed about.”

First, Cory Schneider found himself playing more frequently, putting Luongo on the bench more than he had ever been in his professional career.

Then, after Schneider was traded to New Jersey before the 2013-14 season, Eddie Lack became the Canucks’ new favored goalie.

Luongo made it clear he was ready to leave what had become a toxic situation, but the Canucks and general manager Mike Gillis couldn’t find the right landing spot.

A big reason for that was Luongo was adamant he wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause for just anyone.

Coming back to the Panthers, where he played from 2000-06, was his top priority.

“There was a point in time where I had given up on it,” said Luongo, who was traded by Florida’s Mike Keenan to Vancouver in 2006.

“I was focused on playing here [in Vancouver] and just see what would happen with teams and trades. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. This one worked out.’’

The situation came to a head when then-coach John Tortorella announced Lack — and not Luongo — would start in the much-anticipated Heritage Classic at B.C. Place.

Luongo was so incensed at the snub, agent Pat Brisson went to Gillis, demanding a trade.

Gillis allowed Brisson to shop his client and his first call was to Florida general manager Dale Tallon.

A few days after the Heritage game was played in the large dome — which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics as well as being the home of the CFL’s Lions — Luongo was headed back to Florida.

“I had given up on it,” Luongo said.

Tallon had conversations with Gillis about acquiring Luongo in the past, but nothing ever went through.

Luongo had heard the rumors he would be heading back to Florida before, so he didn’t pay much heed to the latest talk between the two teams.

Tallon, however, now had the financial backing of new ownership, not to mention a much lower price tag for Luongo’s services.

Vancouver had been asking for some of Florida’s top prospects — most notably Nick Bjugstad — in previous talks.

In March, all Tallon had to give up was center Shawn Matthias and goalie prospect Jacob Markstrom to bring Luongo back to South Florida.

When the trade was finally agreed to, Brisson called Luongo in his hotel room in Arizona. He woke him up from his pregame nap with the big news.

“This deal was 2 1/2 years in the making,” Tallon said Tuesday.

“It was close, then it wasn’t, then it was revitalized. We were elated to get it done. Everyone knows how great he is, what a great pro he is. He’s a world-class goalie [but also] a world-class guy. That’s just as important to me. I’m elated he’s a Panther.”

The deal has worked out for both teams, although Gillis and Tortorella were both let go following Vancouver’s dreadful season.

Even though the Canucks were left without a true No.1 goalie when the trade was made, they snared All-Star Ryan Miller in free agency.

Lack is now the backup, although he started Tuesday’s game against the Islanders.

Although Matthias says he loved playing for the Panthers and still stays in close contact with many of his former teammates, Vancouver offered a fresh start and new opportunities.

This year, Matthias — who spent parts of six seasons with the Panthers — has seven goals and 12 points.

Matthias even has ties to the original Luongo trade as then-general manager Jacques Martin acquired Matthias from Detroit in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi back in 2007.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here, it’s a beautiful city and great organization,” Matthias said. “Being a Canadian kid playing in Canada, well, it feels like home.”

▪ The Panthers had a full house at Tuesday’s afternoon practice at Rogers Arena.

Tomas Kopecky, who has missed the past four games, was back on the ice as was Tomas Fleischmann and Erik Gudbranson. The only regular missing was Sean Bergenheim.

“It was a maintenance day for him,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It was good to have everyone else back. That’s a good sign.”

▪ The Panthers recalled goalie Sam Brittain from their ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati on Monday.

With Al Montoya back in South Florida as his wife gave birth to a son, Florida needed a second goalie for practice.

Montoya is expected to fly to Vancouver on Wednesday and be back in time for Thursday’s game.

The Luongo trade(s)

Where are they now?

2000

Florida Panthers acquire Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen from New York Islanders for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

Olli Jokinen: Became captain of the Panthers before being traded to Coyotes in 2008. Currently with Nashville.

Mark Parrish: Retired in 2012, currently television analyst for St. Cloud State in Minnesota.

Oleg Kvasha: Last played in NHL in 2005-06; still playing in Russian KHL.

Islanders GM Mike Milbury: 'Resigned' from New York in 2006; currently television commentator in Boston and for NBC Sports.

Florida GM Bryan Murray: Fired by the Panthers in Dec. 2000; currently GM of Ottawa Senators.

2006

Florida Panthers trade Luongo and Lukas Krajicek to Vancouver Canucks for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen.

Lukas Krajicek: Last played in the NHL in 2009-10; currently playing in the KHL.

Todd Bertuzzi: Was traded to Detroit in 2007, played with Red Wings until last season.

Alex Auld: Spent one season with Panthers, final NHL season in 2011-12; currently living in Vancouver.

Bryan Allen: Spent next five seasons with Panthers; was put on waivers by Montreal on Monday.

Florida GM Mike Keenan: Was fired by Panthers two months after Luongo trade. Coached Calgary Flames, led Magnitogorsk to KHL championship last season.

Vancouver GM Dave Nonis: Was replaced by Mike Gillis in 2008; currently the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2014

Florida Panthers acquire Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony from Vancouver Canucks for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.

Steven Anthony: Played for Florida's ECHL team in Cincinnati last year and wasn't offered a new contract.

Jacob Markstrom: Spent the end of last season with Canucks; currently with Vancouver's AHL team in Utica, New York.

Shawn Matthias: Has seven goals and five assists for Canucks through first 35 games this season.

Vancouver GM Mike Gillis: Was fired by the Canucks along with coach John Tortorella following the 2013-14 season.

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