CALGARY – Mike Babcock likes that Roberto Luongo wins “every time” when representing Canada. The Detroit Red Wings coach also appreciates how the veteran dealt with the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltending situation.
“He’s been through a tumultuous time and I thought handled it with extreme class and professionalism,” Babcock said. “That’s got to make him feel good about who he is, and I’m actually proud of him the way he’s handled himself.”
Luongo only recently broke his silence and talked about the latest twist in the saga: the Canucks trading Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at the NHL draft, making him the No. 1 goaltender again. Before Canada’s Olympic orientation camp began, the 34-year-old was eager to move past the drama and focus on hockey again.
“You go through stuff throughout your life and your career, and you try to learn from them, you try to get stronger from them, and I think over the course of the last year I’ve been through a few things, and hopefully got some experience out of it, made me a better player, a better person,” he said. “So, right now, I just want to play hockey, doesn’t matter where it is.”
After sending Schneider to the Devils for the ninth pick in the draft, general manager Mike Gillis expressed confidence that Luongo would return to the Canucks even after requesting a trade a year ago.
“It’s not that I wanted out of Vancouver so bad,” Luongo said. “We all saw what happened, for the last few years, and I just felt it was time to move on. That’s it.”
But Luongo wasn’t afforded the chance to move on and a fresh start. Instead, he’s a candidate to be Canada’s starter in Sochi, Russia, and is without a doubt the starter for the Canucks.
Asked if he would be happy going back to Vancouver, Luongo said it didn’t matter.
“I’m happy to be playing and being a starter, that’s what matters for now, and that’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s all you really need, right?”
NHL players weigh in on Russia’s anti-gay laws
Sidney Crosby, Dan Boyle and Braden Holtby are among the NHL players invited to Olympic orientation camp who don’t agree with Russia’s new anti-gay laws.
The legislation, passed in June, bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and imposes fines on those holding gay pride rallies.
The move ignited a debate over how gay athletes and their friends and families will be treated in Sochi at the Winter Games in February.
“It’s hard to go into a country that supports something like that,” Holtby said upon arrival in Calgary.
But the Washington Capitals goalie from Lloydminster, Sask., believes athletes can do more to protest homophobic attitudes in that country by going to the Games than staying away.
“I don’t think that would do any good,” he said of a boycott. “I think it would cause more problems than it would solve.
“But I think it’s an opportunity for athletes to get together and support a cause that I think a lot of us really have a passion for. And I think we can do lot of good for it.
About 10 of the 47 hockey players invited to camp have publicly endorsed the “You Can Play” campaign that aims to eliminate homophobia from sport.
Crosby was less militant that Holtby, saying he personally doesn’t agree with Russia’s anti-gay stance “but that being said, everyone kind of has different views.”
Added Boyle, a two-time Olympian: “On Russia’s stance, I don’t agree with it. I just don’t agree. I think, gay or not, that shouldn’t change anything. Not a big fan of that.”
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson says his organization’s position on the issue is aligned with the Canadian Olympic Committee’s.
The COC has made a point in recent weeks to trumpet its support of athletes participating in Pride events across Canada.
Former Olympians Katie Weatherston, Bill Meyer, Scott Cranham and Patrick Biggs marched in Ottawa’s Pride Parade on Sunday.
“The players certainly have the right to speak out as they feel,” Nicholson said. “We’ve been in constant communication with the Canadian Olympic Committee and totally support that stands they’re making.
“We’ve seen some of our women’s players such as Hayley Wickenheiser speak out. We just want to make sure we stay aligned with the Canadian Olympic Committee and make sure our players feel comfortable.”
Krueger added as consultant
Ralph Krueger was added to Hockey Canada’s group as a consultant to the coaching staff. Babcock and general manager Steve Yzerman cited the former Edmonton Oilers coach’s experience internationally on bigger ice surfaces as the reason.
“We brought Ralph on board because he knows way more about the big ice than we do,” Babcock said. “No one knows better than him.”
Krueger coached Switzerland at 15 different international competitions since 1998, including the past four Olympics. He was fired as Oilers coach in late June after GM Craig MacTavish wanted someone with a different philosophy and hired Dallas Eakins.
That move doesn’t seem to have reduced Krueger’s standing in the hockey community.
“I lived right beside him in Davos (Switzerland) and I got to know him well and what he did with that program speaks for itself,” New York Rangers winger Rick Nash said. “It’s good to have him on our side now.”
Thornton has family situation
San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton did not arrive in Calgary on Sunday, and a Hockey Canada spokesman said it was because a family situation came up.
Thornton will try to make it to camp at some point if possible, the spokesman said.