VANCOUVER, B.C. – Injured Vancouver Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo didn’t mince his words when describing what it’s like being forced to watch from the sidelines as he recovers from a groin injury.
“I hate it,” Luongo said Tuesday. “Not being around the team, not taking part in practice, you feel like you are out of the loop a little bit.
“This is probably the toughest part of being injured, not being around the guys as much.”
While the all-star goaltender lamented his feeling of alienation, coach Alain Vigneault was hoping one of Luongo’s replacements will step up in Vancouver’s time of need.
Veteran Curtis Sanford, Luongo’s regular backup, and prized prospect Cory Schneider-called up from the AHL Manitoba Moose – have both shone and been very suspect in the 10 games since Luongo was hurt Nov. 22.
“We’re hoping that one of the two will step up and play consistently,” said Vigneault. “This is such a competitive league . . . we all need very good goaltending to win consistently.
“I need one of the two to step up and give us … a chance to win every game. So far they haven’t done it.”
Sanford will get the start Wednesday night when the Canucks play the Edmonton Oilers in a Northwest Division matchup. It will be an emotional night as Vancouver will officially retire former captain Trevor Linden’s jersey.
“He meant everything for this team, city and province,” said Luongo, the current Canucks captain. “The way he approached the game and the way he handled himself in lots of areas is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Sanford doesn’t want to spoil Linden’s night with a repeat of his performance in Vancouver’s 3-0 loss to Edmonton Saturday, where he gave up soft goal just 49 seconds into the game shown on Hockey Night in Canada.
“We can all say we didn’t have a great game on Saturday,” said Sanford. “To do it on national TV doesn’t leave a good feeling in your stomach.”
The Canucks have a 17-11-3 record for 37 points but are 4-5-1 since Luongo’s injury. Sanford is 2-3 in the games he’s played while Schneider, the Canucks first-round draft choice in 2004, 2-2-1.
Sanford said his play has been up and down.
“It’s been a good game, then one where you want a goal back that makes a difference,” he said. “To get that going on a consistent level is what I’m looking at doing.”
There is no timetable for Luongo’s return to the lineup. His status is listed as week-to-week.
His recovery seemed on track, and he was practising with the team, until a setback last week. He abruptly left a practice Wednesday and is off skates indefinitely.
“There is not much to say,” Luongo said. “I will be back when I’m 100 per cent and I don’t know when that will be.
“Once it feels 100 per cent we’ll get back on the ice. Unfortunately I don’t have a timetable because this is the first time this has happened to me. With the position I play it demands a lot of stress in that area.”
Luongo denies he risked further injury by trying to rush back into the lineup.
“You learn your lesson a bit,” he said. “We have to make sure once I am back it’s going to be for good and not something that is going to be reoccurring.”
Mike Gillis, the Canucks general manager, wanted to quash rumours Luongo could be lost long term.
“I’ve heard claims he’s out for the rest of the year,” said Gillis. “We’re dealing with this as a very important player and we are being very cautious, probably as conservative as you can be.
“It’s not a long-term injury. It’s week to week.”
Linden, 38, announced his retirement as a player in June. He recorded 867 points (375-492) in 1,382 regular season games with the Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.
He became the Canucks captain at just 21 years of age and held the role for seven seasons. He retired as the franchise leader in games played with 1,140 and is second all-time in goals (318) and points (733).
Canuck forward Alex Burrows used to share a locker beside Linden.
“We spoke every day about a lot of stuff and he taught me a lot,” said Burrows. “He’s an awesome guy and tomorrow night should be an awesome night.”