Hart Stopping

Wednesday, 31.01.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Hart Stopping

By Josh Plummer

 
A few years ago, I read one of the many biographies of Wayne Gretzky and the author told a story about an opposing coach who offered $50 for every hit on Gretzky during a game when he was a junior with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Players were inspired at the thought of pocketing some easy cash, but as it turned out, the coach only paid out $25 for half a hit. Gretzky was just too quick and elusive.

This story came to mind after watching Roberto Luongo being battered around like one of those padded sleds linemen use in football practice during the last three Vancouver games.

The Kings, Sharks and Blue Jackets threw an average of nearly 37 pucks at Luongo and had almost as many men in the blue paint wreaking havoc. The game plan these days is clearly to revert back to one of the oldest tricks in the coach's handbook: Throw pucks on goal and crash the net hard.

When is enough considered enough?

Last night, Columbus forwards Manny Malhotra and Dan Fritsche looked like they were in a rugby ruck trying to advance the puck over the goal-line. It's not often Luongo will take a swipe at another player or even leave the blue to say a few choice words to uninvited players in the crease.

But then again, his job isn't to act as the surly doorman, it's to stop pucks.

The last two months of the season are going to be hotly contested and teams are going to resort to any means possible to gain a valuable two points. I'm just hoping the NHL pays close attention to teams who try attacking the last line of defense with blatant disregard.

Canucks fans have seen enough of goaltenders being knocked out of action late in the season.

HART

Besides keeping the wallets of his junior counterparts empty, Gretzky went on to win nine Hart Memorial trophies as the league's most valuable player to his team, including a stretch of eight in a row during the mid 80's.

In the 82 year history of the Hart trophy being awarded, a goaltender has been deemed worthy only seven times. Dominik Hasek won it back to back while he was with Buffalo in 1997 and 1998.

Could that number hit eight this year?

I'm not the first one to start whispers of Luongo being considered for the honor, but if Canucks fans want the powers that be to look beyond the Rocky Mountains when considering deserving recipients, the buzz has to takeoff now.

The finalists this year could come from a handful of teams.

Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, Alexander Ovechkin from Washington and Martin Brodeur with New Jersey are just a few near the top of my list - but if I had a vote I'd nominate Luongo to have his named etched on the statuesque trophy that looks like a blossoming rose.

I haven't seen the city of Vancouver embrace a player like this since the days Pavel Bure used to lift fans out of their seats with end to end rushes that broke games wide open.

The Canucks and their fans are relying on Luongo to be the man to backstop them to a playoff spot - he's started in all but three games so far this year.

"It's going to go down to the wire and everybody is going to play their top players," said coach Alain Vigneault. "Look at San Jose the other night. How many minutes did Joe Thornton play? Thornton is their top player and he's always on the ice. Our top player is Luongo - he's going to play."

If that's not a ringing endorsement for being the most valuable to his team, I'm not sure what is.

LOOOOOOOOOOO!

I might be wrong on this, but last night was the first time all season I've heard fans in GM Place use the "Looooooooo" chant after Luongo made another of his brilliant stops.

I've often wondered why the chant hasn't happened more often. Maybe fans were saving it for Luc Bourdon.

The two rousing standing ovations Louie received in the second period against the Sharks the other night were enough to make anyone's ears tingle. Imagine 18,630 fans hitting Looooooo with a low base? It might give the Bose speakers hanging from the rafters a pretty good run.

I say we make it happen.