Main Camp - Testing
Roberto Luongo returned to General Motors Place Thursday.
It was his first appearance since a press conference in early July to announce his new five-year deal with the Canucks.
Everything from the coach to the color on the dressing room walls has changed since then. The only thing that hasn't, are the expectations.
"It's good to be here and good to finally get things going," said the 27-year-old Luongo, who arrived yesterday from his off-season home in Florida. '"I know what I can do and I'm here to do my job."
That 'job' is backstopping a revamped Canuck team that's seen more than half its roster turned over since last spring. Getting this team back to the playoffs is a task Luongo says he's eager to tackle.
"I'm serious about the way I work and the way I play. I'm here to play my best and help this team get a Stanley Cup possibly."
The 6'3", 205-pound Montreal native has yet to play an NHL playoff game - having spent his entire career in Florida - though he tended goal for Canada's gold-medal winning World Cup team in 2004, and for a pair of IIHF world championship teams in 2003 and 2004.
"He has the ability to steal a game every night for you," said Brendan Morrison. "Having him in goal is going to give the rest of the team a little more confidence."
"When you look at him, he's an intimidating presence. There isn't a lot of net to shoot at. He gets in the heads of opposing shooters and that gives us a leg up right away."
General manager Dave Nonis startled the league on the eve of the NHL Entry Draft trading winger Todd Bertuzzi, goaltender Alex Auld, and defender Bryan Allen to the Panthers for Luongo, youngster Lukas Krajicek, and a draft pick.
Assistant general manager Steve Tambellini said it was an easy move to make - at least from a hockey perspective.
"It takes away the questions. You know that you have a piece of the puzzle you can build from. And that's what we talked about when Roberto became available to us"
"The decision was made quite quickly that we were going to do what it takes to get this piece in our organization. We told Roberto that we were going to work with him and build this team from him on out."
Part of that building process was signing Port McNeill native Willie Mitchell, considered one of the top shut-down defenders in the league.
"I've been getting to know him [Luongo] the last little bit here and he really likes challenges," said Mitchell. "His biggest challenge is probably the pressure he puts on himself. I can see that in him already."
Mitchell is no stranger to tackling challenges himself, having played on a Cinderella Minnesota Wild team that pulled off a few giant playoff upsets.
Mitchell will undoubtedly play a key roll on a Canuck defense that will be without all-star rearguard Ed Jovanovski for the first time in over six years.
"I take a lot of pride in what I do, and so does [Mattias] Ohlund, Sami [Salo], Kevin Bieksa, and all the rest of the new guys too. If people say we've lost a little bit back there, we like that challenge, at least I do."
Having Luongo in the crease will make that challenge easier - and that's the whole point.
For now at least, it's a matter of getting acquainted with styles, and more importantly, personalities.
"It's a great idea to do camp up there [in Vernon]," said Mitchell, who immediately boarded a bus with the rest of the team following testing. "We'll get a chance to interact and start to gel and build that team chemistry."
"Especially now you need that gelling. And with all the changeover it's important for us new guys to get to know eachother on a personal level. You need that that interaction between peers to put a good team on the ice."
Right winger Jason King won't be coming to camp this year. The 25-year-old from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland signed a contract with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Elite League. King played 36 games with Manitoba last year scoring 19 goals and 33 points.
"Players have to make their own decisions. They can look at it and say 'yes, we've added players here,' but they can say 'it doesn't matter and I'm going to make this hockey club.'"
Stopping In Goal
Luongo and Wade Flaherty are the only two veteran goaltenders in Vernon. They'll share time with youngster Alexadre Vincent, Julien Ellis, and recently acquired Drew MacIntyre despite suggestions the Canucks would add another veteran.
"We've had a few discussions with some goaltenders that are out there that have NHL games and they're looking for guaranteed one-way contracts. The goaltenders we have spoken about are basically on a tryout basis."
One reporter in the hallway underneath GM Place borrowed a photographer's digital camera to get acquainted with Lukas Krajicek's face. Half the assembled media wouldn't have been able to tell him from one of the dozen or so roadies filtering by to set up the Red Hot Chili Pepper's concert.
"He represents the type of player that you really need in the modern day NHL," said Tambellini. "Guys that have the mobility and guys that don't just see the obvious play, but create something that's not there. He's shown - at least at the international level - that he can look people off and make a nice play... he's shown promise that he can do that."
Luongo played 67 games with the 23-year-old Czech native last season before the pair were traded together this spring.
"He's a very offensive-minded defenseman and has good skill and can move the puck really well," said Luongo. "I think he's a definite guy who can play on the power play."
"Last year was his first full season in the NHL and I think he did a lot of growing. Hopefully he shows up to camp very confident and displays his ability."