R. Luongo and the Canadian Dream

A new collective bargaining agreement has been tentatively reached between NHL players and owners, salvaging this year’s NHL season. In light of this, a question has resurfaced in the minds of Canucks fans: what is to become of Bobby Lou?

Ridiculed by fans and the media in times of lackluster performance, worshipped and revered by critics during periods of brilliant play, the Canucks goaltender has become something of a unique character study. No matter who you are, or how devoted a hockey fan you may be, number one in blue commands attention unlike any of his teammates.

Growing up in Montreal, Quebec, Roberto aspired to become a goaltending legend — a dream not foreign to those raised in the Francophone province. He lived a mere four blocks away from future Olympic teammate and hall of fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, a mainstay on Canada’s national team and three-time Stanley Cup Champion. His dream of becoming a professional goaltender was realized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the fourth round of the 1997 NHL draft where he was taken fourth overall by the New York Islanders.

Following stints in Long Island and then Florida, where he experienced great individual success, Roberto was traded with defensemen Lukas Krajicek to the Canucks on June 23, 2006 in exchange for fan-favourite enforcer Todd Bertuzzi, defenseman Bryan Allen and budding goaltender Alex Auld. The trade radically changed the identity of the Canucks for years to come, and tasked the team’s management with transitioning from an offense-first system to one that was built from the net out. Roberto enjoyed a career-year in his first twelve months with the organization, carrying an underdog team to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before eventually losing to a star-studded Anaheim Ducks squad. Luongo quickly became the face of the franchise, culminating in the unorthodox decision among Canucks brass to grant him the captaincy prior to the 2008-09 season. To many, this decision came as no surprise, however short his time as captain may have been.

His most loyal fans see his professional resume as grounds for acclaim, and rightfully so. Detractors may argue that he is yet to bring the Stanley Cup home to Vancouver, but nevertheless Luongo has been nominated for a Vezina and Hart trophy for his efforts. He has also propelled the Canucks to five division titles in his six seasons with the club, and been instrumental in the Canucks capturing the past two Presidents trophies as top team during the regular season. He did all this while consistently playing a vast majority of games; it has always been contentious when Luongo does not start in net.

Roberto also proved he was a big game player in February 2010, as he backstopped team Canada to gold at the Vancouver winter Olympics. While skeptics believed the French-Italian goaltender would fold under the pressure of playing for his country in his club’s town, Roberto stepped up to the challenge and outplayed the aforementioned Martin Brodeur as the nation’s number one between the pipes.

Despite this early success, Louie’s tenure with the Canucks has been a rollercoaster ride, the likes of which Canucks fans have rarely seen. Taking the Canucks to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was possibly his greatest success, yet arguably led to his greatest failure. As he watched the Boston Bruins hoist the Cup and parade it around his home ice, Roberto’s career began an unprecedented downswing. The following post-season saw his team’s unexpected dismissal from the first round of the playoffs at the hands of eventual Cup champions the L.A. Kings, and the ascendancy of his former back-up goaltender and apprentice, Cory Schneider.

Immediately following the Canucks elimination, questions surrounded the fate of Luongo and his future with the organization. In an interview during the team’s annual locker clean-out, the veteran puck-stopper blatantly expressed his willingness to depart if the team envisioned Schneider as the future.

Now, following the location of a resolution to the lockout between league commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA representative Donald Fehr, Luongo’s future again becomes the forefront of discussion within hockey circles. Many assume Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis will attempt to deal the enigmatic goaltender to Florida, where Roberto’s family lives. There he would be able to rejoin a Panthers team that, following a break-out season, appears to be on the brink of turning its formidable potential into reality. Others suggest Gillis will ship him to Toronto, where a struggling Maple Leafs team wallows in the shame of missing the playoffs for seven consecutive years. Former Canucks GM Dave Nonis recently took over the helm of that front office, and knows that his time as Leafs GM would be deemed a success if Lou were able to drag his team into a playoff spot — regardless of how things turn out following that success. While the pressure of playing in a Canadian market may turn Roberto off of the bright lights of Toronto, it appears to be the best decision to re-galvanize a career that isn’t in the bleak state many critics claim it is.

But when it’s all said and done, it’s just as possible that Roberto may stick around a while longer. Who knows? A shortened season may provide the workhorse with an opportunity to finally get the job done without wearing down in the process. As Canucks fans, we certainly hope that’s the case.

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