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Roberto Luongo Q&A: What it Means to be Named to Hockey Hall of Fame

Roberto Luongo looks back at how his career started, playing 70-plus games a year at points, becoming a fan favorite in Florida, his Twitter account and what getting named to the Hockey Hall of Fame means to him.
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Q. Congratulations on your call to the Hall of Fame. It's only been an hour since you got the news, but how special is it to wrap your playing career this way?

Luongo: It's extremely special, but I feel like it really hasn't hit me yet. It feels a little bit surreal at the moment. When you're playing, you don't play hockey to be in the Hall of Fame, right? You play to win the Stanley Cup. It's only when your career is done that you kind of start thinking about that other stuff. Once my playing career was done, I went right into management. I wasn't really thinking about it. A lot of people brought it to my attention, but on a personal level, it's not something I thought about a lot, maybe a couple of months (ago) when I knew it was around the corner.

Q. Your trade to Florida along with Olli Jokinen is regarded as one of the best in team history. Do you remember learning you would be joining the Panthers?

Luongo: I actually recall it vividly because it was a bit of a weird day. It was draft day. I was in Montreal at my parents' house watching the news. I saw my goalie partner, Kevin Weekes, had gotten traded an hour before. When I got the call, I thought (the Islanders) were calling me to let me know they're going to give me a chance the following year to be the guy. But no, they were calling me to tell me they had traded me as well. It came as a total shock to find out that I was going to Florida when I learned of it.

Q. You played at least 70 games in four straight seasons and in two of those finished as the league leader shots against. Those years were rough. Poor goal support. Long losing streaks. What do you credit for being able to sustain the mental and physical workload you faced in your early years?

Luongo: It was my drive. I was just trying to get my feet wet in the NHL and try to establish myself as a starter. Those were my first few years in Florida. Obviously, it was a little bit frustrating to not be winning as much as I would have liked. But at the same time, I was young and I just wanted to be the best goalie I could be at the time. That's why I was playing so many games and facing so many shots every night. It actually made me a better goaltender. Even though I didn't have much success as far as wins, I think it really played a big part in the rest of my career.

Q. You even had a dedicated fan club — "Luongo's Legion" — sparked by your father-in-law, Umberto. Was there a point where you knew Florida was your home?

Luongo: When the Legion started, it was my father-in-law and my wife's uncle. They started coming to the game dressed as Roman soldiers. They had the drums and trumpets and flags. It made me feel at home. Meeting my wife and getting married, this became our home. They're the people who first welcomed me to Florida and made me feel like I was part of their family. It played a huge part in pretty much the rest of my life — not hockey related — but I think it really made me feel at home and comfortable being in Florida. It made my mind at ease when I was on the ice.

Q. Around 2005-06, there was a lot of contention over your future here. The Panthers were unstable at that time, but you still wanted to be here. When things didn't work out, you were exiled to the furthest location possible, in possibly one of Florida's worst trades. Can you take us inside that time?

Luongo: I don't remember everything specifically, but I do remember it was my last year of my contract. We hadn't had much success as a team. At that point, I wanted to make sure the ownership was dedicated to winning and bringing a team that will be competitive and try to compete for the playoffs every year. At that point, I was trying to get a shorter-term contract because I wanted to see that the owner was serious. My plan was never to leave. I didn't have any intention of leaving the team. And if I did, I told them I would let them know in advance, that I would not be the type of guy to just walk out on them. So I had that understanding. Then when draft day rolled around, we were getting down to the deadline. There was a contract on the table that we ultimately accepted, but by that point, once I called them back to accept, the trade had already been made to go to Vancouver.

Q. It seemed the situation gave you the motivation to show everyone what a grave mistake the Panthers made. How much did the experience fuel you?

Luongo: Everything I can use for motivation, I take, right? Going to Vancouver, the first year I was there we made the playoffs. That's all I ever wanted was to be in the playoffs. I think that's why you play the game. We had a few cracks at it and came really close the one year (2011). Unfortunately, we fell one game short. But some of the best experiences, especially in the postseason were in Vancouver. They were so much fun to be a part of and a huge part of my career.

Q. Your time in Vancouver was epic: Two 40-win seasons, two Olympic gold medals — one on home ice, another in your ancestral home of Italy — and a deep Stanley cup run. Which moments during this time stand out above all?

Luongo: There's a few. The first one was is the gold-medal game in Vancouver, 2010. That was pressure like I've never felt before. It wasn't just a city; it was a whole country. The fact that it was in Vancouver made it really special for me to be part of that. The other was the 2011 run to the Finals. The first one was against the Blackhawks. That series we were 3-0 and they came back to force Game 7 and then it goes to overtime. I had to make a big save off (Chicago's Patrick) Sharp, then (Vancouver's Alex) Burrows gets out of the box and scores. That was one of the most exhilarating moments of my career. If you look at the way we celebrated after we scored, it looked like we had won the Stanley Cup, but it was the first round of the playoffs. That's how much it meant to us because the Blackhawks eliminated us the previous seasons and it was a rivalry. We got them back in that series. Then, obviously, the Finals. There was an emotional roller coaster attached to that one. I had some had some great emotions in Vancouver in the three of those first four games. The shutouts and overtime wins was was amazing.

Q. Your story took a storybook turn in that you returned to Florida. Your tweet of a palm tree emoji sent Hockey Twitter into a frenzy. Did you ever think finishing your career here was possible? How special was that opportunity?

Luongo: It's weird because my trade saga lasted for over a year. It dragged on quite a while. At first I thought maybe there was a chance to go back home. And then a few months into it, I realized that it's probably not a possibility. I opened myself up to other ideas and other possibilities. At one point I did think I was going somewhere else. At the deadline, it kind of fell through in the last minute. And then the following year (2014), I wasn't expecting it at all. When I got the call that I was going back to Florida, I was actually pretty shocked about it.

Q. Sticking to Twitter — you're really funny. You've called it therapeutic. Why is "Strombone" your handle? Does it mean "sad trombone"?

Luongo: No, it's actually not that. But that's a good idea. There's more than one meaning. But one of them is when I was in high school, I used to play the trombone. And then one of my favorite things to eat is Stromboli. It kind of fits together. The therapeutic part, for me, is one of my biggest weaknesses was I always took it to heart when people would say negative things towards me. That affected me in a negative way. Once I created that account, I kind of started making fun of myself. I quickly realized when you start making fun of yourself, other people don't make fun of you at all. It was kind of a way to realize that sometimes you can't take everything so seriously. Even if there was mean stuff written or tweeted at me, I learned to brush it off and realize, hey listen, you're never going to make everybody happy. There's always going to be some people who are going to be against you and other people be for you. That's just the way life is. It took me a while to realize that, but once I did, it was great. It was awesome for me, especially in a mental way. I associate it with goaltending, to be able to get over these hurdles with different things, right? Even if there's a bad game, these are things that happen. It's just easier for me to overcome those hurdles.

Q. What did you enjoy most during your second stint with the Panthers?

Luongo: It was the year we made the playoffs. That was the one regret I had when I left the first time — we never made the playoffs. When I came back, that was my main goal. I just wanted to be part of the playoffs experience with the Florida Panthers. I had a bunch of years with Vancouver, but I never witnessed it with Florida and we were able to accomplish that. We had a great season. I think we had won 12 games in a row at one point. We went into the Islanders series feeling pretty good and it was a good series. It was close and could have gone either way. We fell short. But I got to live what it's like to be in a playoff atmosphere in Florida and it was great.

Q. And you were teammates with Jaromir Jagr. Guys like Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck were still young then and in awe of him. Was it mind-blowing for you, too?

Luongo: Of course. He was sitting in the stall right next to me. Just to watch him... It is crazy how much energy he had for a guy of his age. He was always doing something. He was always working out. He always had ankle weights on. I didn't understand how he could have so much energy at that age. It was crazy. I think what I learned from him the most is the work ethic. I thought that I worked hard. But when I looked at him, it wasn't even comparable. He's a great guy, and it was great for the franchise to have him around for those few years.

Q. The Panthers made you the first player in franchise history to have his number retired. Strangely, the ceremony was held just days before the world shut down due to COVID-19. Was it a moment you were able to really cherish in all that downtime?

Luongo: I remember we were setting it up and COVID had just started. We were wondering if it was (safe). All my family was flying in and we were wondering if that was a good idea. Then when we saw them, what do we do? Do we hug them? Do we not hug them? It was a little bit of a weird time, but everything ended up being fantastic. The ceremony was beautiful. It was really well done. And I was happy that we did get it done at that time because I didn't want to wait another two years to be able to enjoy that moment.

Q. You've been working with the Panthers front office since. Are you giving thought to pursuing a role as a GM, or maybe as goaltending coach at some point in the future?

Luongo: I'm not really into coaching, to be honest, other than coaching my boy. No, I'm not into coaching that much. The ultimate goal would be to become a GM one day. I don't want to rush into it. I want to do it the right way. I know there's still a lot to learn. I'm learning every day. I want to take my time, and when I feel I'm ready, I'll pursue it more and more. But I'm happy with the involvement right now with decisions and all these types of things. It's a role that I cherish and embrace. I look forward to learning every day and getting better in that department.

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