Martin Brodeur. Patrick Roy. Roberto Luongo. That was the top of the NHL’s all-time wins list for goalies June 27 when Luongo announced his retirement at 40.
And he did so in the most Luongo way possible, tweeting, in parody of LeBron James, “I’ve decided to take my talents to a South Beach retirement home.”
It was a fitting farewell for someone who, despite a probable first-ballot Hall of Fame resume, will be remembered as much for his off-ice personality as for what he did on the ice. “I get called Strombone more than Roberto nowadays,” he said in a 2018 interview with The Hockey News. “It’s funny how things worked out.”
Who is Strombone, more accurately known as @strombone1? That exact question built the Twitter account’s mystique when it appeared on the hockey scene in July 2011. Few noticed it at first, but Vancouver Canucks fans started to realize that Strombone followed and was followed by players on the team.
As Luongo remembers it, Ryan Kesler essentially outed him with a cryptic tweet one day. Word spread that @strombone1 was Luongo, and fans followed the account in droves. But they didn’t just do so because he was “NHL Goalie Roberto Luongo.” The account was actually good. It was funny and full of self-deprecating references to Luongo’s own career, such as when, after allowing eight goals in a loss in February 2013, he quipped, “I just wanted to apologize to all the people who had to replace their Budweiser Red Light bulb after yesterday’s debacle.”
The @strombone1 account has close to 800,000 followers, and Luongo retires as the king of Hockey Twitter among the players. “I just wanted to keep it a little bit different, a little bit light, and to show more of my personality that sometimes is hard to bring out in front of the cameras,” Luongo said. “Because when you’re in front of the cameras, you want to keep it politically correct and don’t stray too far away from the hockey terms everybody uses.”
That’s quite the statement given Luongo will go down as one of the only players in his cliche-spouting generation who regularly spoke his mind. His easygoing, engaging personality contradicted the stereotype of the strange, socially aloof goaltender.
Luongo was the anti-Tom Barrasso and, because of that, beared the burden of being counted on to talk and say interesting things to the media more than any other goalie of his era. It stressed him out early in his career, but he got over it. “Getting older and maturing and understanding how things work, I’ve gotten to the point where I accept and embrace it now,” he said. “It just makes me as a person more relaxed and not as uptight, knowing that kind of stuff is part of the job. It’s part of the description to do these things on a daily basis and not to resist it.”
That mindset was a reason why, in 2008, the Canucks made him the first goalie to captain a team in 60 years, though Luongo’s status was unofficial and represented by a ‘C’ painted on his mask. The Canucks later transferred captaincy to Henrik Sedin, but Luongo loved the honor and said he would’ve done it again in a heartbeat.
Luongo was much more than a talking head, of course. He earned the No. 29 ranking when The Hockey News published The Top 100 Goalies of All-Time last fall. He was a prodigy, inspired to become a goalie by Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr. Luongo idolized him as a kid, particularly because of his dramatic, acrobatic glove saves. Luongo would try to replicate them as a youth over and over again. Sometimes that meant a friend shooting on him. If Luongo had no company, he’d throw a ball against the wall himself and attempt save after save.
He was drafted by the Islanders fourth overall in 1997, the highest for a goalie in draft history at the time, but GM Mike Milbury shipped him to Florida three years later in a famously awful trade. Carrying some mediocre Panthers teams, Luongo faced the third- and fourth-most shots in a season by any goalie in NHL history in 2005-06 and 2003-04.
Luongo thrived on getting lots of action. He also loved being at the heart of a deep playoff run to Game 7 of the 2011 Cup final as a Canuck, as much as the defeat hurts to this day, and he was thrilled to become a Panther again in 2014. He finished top-five in Vezina voting five times. He ranks second all-time in games and saves and ninth in shutouts and save percentage. He won two Olympic gold medals, including one as Canada’s starter. Perhaps his coolest stat: he retires as the Canucks’ and Panthers’ all-time wins leader and is the first goalie to do so with multiple teams.
You get the idea: Luongo is really good, enough to earn a Hall call in 2022 when he’s first-time eligible. But his lasting legacy will exist beyond the blue paint, on social media. That’s where Luongo beats Brodeur and Roy and Terry Sawchuk. That’s the space where Luongo is the best ever. “I was just trying to show people who I was when I’m just hanging out with the guys or at home,” he said. “I’m not always in business attire, as they say. I’m glad people took to it and enjoy it. Hopefully, it’ll be like this for a long time, and people can just remember me by social media even when my days of playing hockey are long gone.”