I have been a Canucks fan for almost as long as I remember. Actually, I remember liking the Habs as a young kid because my Dad liked the Habs and Guy Lafleur was a fast-skating hair-flying chain-smoking badass of a hockey player, even with the paisley shirts and floppy collars.
By the time I started really watching and loving hockey, at some point between the ’82 Cup run (with King Richard and Tiger) and the ’87 Canada Cup (or the “Gretzky-Lemieux Show” as I remember it) I became a fan of the Canucks. In good times, and (much more often) in bad. The 1994 Cup run and the hiring of Mike Keenan. The West Coast Express flying, then choking by losing 6 of 8 games in April 2006 to miss the playoffs. The “sisters” winning back-to-back Art Ross Trophies to silence the critics, the same pair leading the team to 1-7 in April 2008 to miss the playoffs, again. I remember in the late 80’s once going to a pub in Vancouver where the price of a pint of beer was equal to Kirk McLean’s GAA. I have my personal list of favourite Canucks – Tiger Williams, Cliff Ronning, Esa Tikkanen (just kidding!). I love this team.
I remember when Luongo arrived with all the hype afforded one of the best goaltenders in the League. He demanded a lot of salary, but he would fill the gap the Canucks had somewhere between Dan Cloutier’s pads and over Alex Auld’s left shoulder. However, I was wary. The Canucks had a history of bringing in an overpaid superstar to finally solve all of their problems once and for all. I present for your consideration: Mark Messier. Matts Sundin. Felix Potvin. Vladimir Krutov. OMFG, we signed Vladimir Krutov.
The difference here is the Luongo performed. He was an ironman in goal. All the talk about him having “bad games” needs to be put into the light of whom he replaced: Dan Cloutier. Lou has the best record of any Canucks starting goaltender ever. More wins (233 wins in 406 games, that beats #2 Kirk McLean by 22 wins, but McLean took 516 games to do it), best Goals Against Average (2.35 vs. Cloutier’s 2.42 and McLean’s 3.28), best save Percentage (.920 vs. Cloutier’s .906), and 2 more shutouts in 406 games as McLean and Cloutier managed combined in 724 games. There is no doubt he is the best goaltender to ever wear the Orca (or the hockey rink, or the skate going down in flames).
In 2011, he led the Canucks to the Presidents Cup, won the team’s first-ever Jennings Trophy, and was the only Canucks player to show up in the Stanley Cup finals.
Yes, I said that. He was the best player on the ice in the 2011 Final series. And I stand behind it (with a hat tip to Ashley, my staff statistician).
The Canucks scored 8 goals in that 7-game series. Luongo backstopped two shutouts. Thomas got two shutouts as well, and he got the MVP for it. Unlike Boston, however, every one of the three games Vancouver won, they did so by a single goal (meaning every single save made by Luongo in those games was “game-saving”). People point out the 4-0 shellacking in game 7, but the Canucks didn’t lose game 7 by allowing the meaningless 3rd and 4th goals, they lost by not scoring a single goal in the most important game in the franchise history.
Let us not forget the other thing Luongo did in Vancouver? He won us a freaking Olympic Gold Medal. Right here in Vancouver. When Brodeur coughed up a furball, Lou stepped in, made four saves in overtime (one of them spectacular) and gave Sid the Kid a chance to be hero. I remember a couple hundred thousand of us celebrating on the streets. For that alone, Lou should never again have to pay for another beer in this town. Ever.
20 months later, I shook my head as Vancouver “fans” booed Luongo for a lackluster performance in a meaningless mid-season game. They got on sports radio calling him a goat, they made fun of his wife. They did all this to the guy who took the Vancouver Canucks farther than any other player has, who brought a Gold Medal to this City less than a year before. Thanks for nuthin’.
Winning seasons or losing seasons, this was the first time I was embarrassed to be a Canucks Fan. (albeit, I was too young to remember this City booing Team Canada in the ’72 Summit Series).
Even during the last bizarre year- when Lou was pushed to #2, told to get ready to pack, strung along past trade deadlines and other milestones, then finally told he was not going anywhere, Lou has handled it with class, grace, and humour. When everyone was speculating about what was happening in the back room, he remained silent and let the teams do their negotiating. When told by his team to expect a trade, he started to pack his boxes and publicly supported Schneider. When Canucks management bungled the trades, he offered to re-negotiate his contract behind closed doors, while remaining stoic and professional to the press. When everyone in Vancouver was criticizing the Schneider trade.Lou stayed out of the limelight, and let the dust settle a bit – for the good of the team and management. When the dust settled, Lou gave an extended interview, talked about the events of the summer (without laying criticism or blame on anyone), expressed his range of emotions though it all, and how he was looking forward to getting back on the ice and doing his job.
I cannot imagine an athlete acting more professional over such a difficult year than Luongo has, especially in a sport market where idiots like Tony Gallagher write tripe like this.
So for all those who were hoping for a trade; those foisting Schneider onto a pedestal from which you would have eventually shoved him? Get over it. Schneider is an excellent goaltender, may become a great one, and I am happy he was able to develop his skills here in Vancouver. However Lou is here, and I hope for a long time. I also hope when he skates onto home ice on October 5 against the team that swept them out of the Playoffs last year, the fans in Vancouver give him a standing ovation. For winning a Gold Medal in that building, for taking the Canucks to Game 7, and for being the best goaltender the Canucks have ever had. And for giving us fans this moment:
Rest assured, in a few more years, we will be lifting #1 to the rafters.