A Star Goalie
By Josh Plummer
In front of a throng of media, Luongo said the neck is a little sore, but it shouldn't keep him from playing before a large contingent of family and friends against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.
The sounds you hear are Vancouver fans exhaling.
But the endless media requests, fan adoration and hot shots are all in a days work for the 27 year-old goaltender whose image is plastered all over this hockey crazed town -Luongo says he's loving life as one of the most recognizable sports figures in Vancouver.
"I get recognized when we're out in public places. I don't notice it that much, but my wife does," said Luongo. "People are looking at me and they'll come up to me but I think it's great - the fans here have been really great to us. They have great respect for their athletes."
It didn't take long for Luongo to adjust to life on the West Coast.
"Once I got here right away I felt at home. We found a place and we got in and it's been great. Obviously we're having a lot of fun. I'm really happy where I am right now and the situation that I'm in - things couldn't be better."
During the Canucks run of seven straight wins and eight in nine, Luongo was named the games first star three times. That usually means a lucky fan in Vancouver is going home with a very cool souvenir.
Whenever he's named first star, Luongo will slide his game used RBK goalie stick over the glass to an excited youngster in the stands at GM Place. It's a gesture that reveals the true character of the man behind the mask.
"It's just something I decided to do because the fans wait for you and want to celebrate with you when you're a first star," said Luongo.
"As I'm coming out of the tunnel, I'll usually pick out a fan who is clapping or cheering and I'll give him my stick. I enjoy the looks on their faces. The fans have really shown their support here in Vancouver and it's just a way for me to return the gesture."
Another way he's returned the gesture is by being the first Canucks goaltender to be named to the All-Star team since Kirk McLean in 1992, and along with Pavel Bure in 1993, 1994 and 1996, he's only the third Vancouver player to be voted in by fans.
He received 484,861 total votes and although he's started all but two of Vancouver's 45 games this season, he doesn't think the festivities surrounding the All-Star game will take any toll on his already heavy workload.
"I have a couple of days off anyways," said Luongo. "Our last game is on a Friday so I have Saturday, Sunday and Monday off and then I'll be traveling to Dallas. Playing one period of hockey isn't going to be a huge factor. I think it will be good to get some ice time before we get going in the second half."
This will be Luongo's second All-Star appearance, but his first as a starter. He was a GM's pick in 2003-04 with the Florida Panthers - and he's already excited about making the trip to Dallas to catch up with some old friends this year.
"I think the whole two-day event is what is exciting for me - the whole experience," said Luongo. "I've only been to one other one when it was in Minnesota and it was my first time, so it was very exciting for me. I got to know a lot of the players around the league and it was a great feeling. It's just a matter of getting together and enjoying the couple of days I'll be in Dallas."
And what about the shot to the throat on Monday?
It wasn't the hardest shot Luongo has faced all year, but it still left a large raspberry on his neck.
Luongo names Grant Fuhr and Patrick Roy as two of his role models when he was growing up - Roy made the dangling plastic neck protector popular, but Luongo doesn't like the feel. Instead he relies on the bottom of his mask and top of his chest protector to stop errant pucks.
"I'm just not comfortable with it," said Luongo when asked about wearing a plastic protector. "Fortunately getting hit in an exposed area only happens once in a while. I don't know if it could have been a lot worse or not. It doesn't feel too good right now, but I'm sure it's not going to stop me from playing."
It's that dogged determination that Canucks fans have grown to admire about Luongo this year already. He's putting it all on the line every night in a valiant attempt to get Vancouver back into the post-season.
"That's all that matters for me right now. I really don't care about numbers and save percentage or how many shots I have, that's not important to me," said Luongo.
"I think there are two things that I look at this year. Number one is wins and number two what our spot is in the standings. No matter how we get it done, as long as we get the two points at the end of the night. That's the bottom line for me and nothing else matters."