Luongo takes his benching with class
RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
|Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo sits on the bench in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings during Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference Hockey playoff quarter-finals in Los Angeles, California April 18, 2012. (REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)
VANCOUVER — Roberto Luongo has every right to be disappointed.
The long-time Vancouver Canucks No.-1 goalie has been supplanted in favour of Cory Schneider at the most important time of the hockey season and the biggest games.
Just over two years ago, he was the toast of Vancouver — the toast of the country — for backstopping Canada to Olympic gold in the city he calls home. To trade a mask for a ball cap and sit at the end of the bench when the Canucks are one win away from a premature exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs is a huge hit to the ego.
For his part, though, Luongo can’t wallow in self-pity.
“I’m a competitor, you guys all know that, and it’s tough,” Luongo said Friday, his first public comments since the club turned to Schneider with their playoff hopes on the line. “But, at the same time, this is about the team. I’m not going to put myself ahead of the team. We’re in this together. We worked hard all year to be in a (playoff) position, and right now I’m going to do the best I can to be ready in case I’m needed and be 100% behind Cory and my teammates.
“I think the attention needs to be focused on the Canucks and Game 5, and what needs to be done to win that game. The last thing I want to be is a distraction for my teammates.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault scoffed when asked which of his goalies would play Game 5 of their playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings Sunday, but it’s pretty obvious with his team down 3-1 in the best-of-seven set and Schneider coming of a 43-save performance.
And Luongo understands the decision and how hard it was for the coach.
“He was put in a tough spot, but at the end of the day, I don’t resent him for it,” Luongo said.
Now, the questions abound regarding Luongo’s future.
The 33-year-old netminder, who has 10 seasons remaining on his 12-year, US $64-million contract, would seem the odd-man out. Even though it’s a lucrative deal, it won’t be impossible for the Canucks to trade Luongo if they believe their future rests with Schneider.
“I think right now’s not really the time to be thinking about that kind of stuff,” said Luongo, who was replaced after the team lost the first two games. “We want to be playing hockey for a little while here and that’s what my focus needs to be on.
“Right now, we’re talking about Game 5 in this locker room. We’re getting ready. We need to have a big game as a team and I’m getting ready in case I’m needed.”
“Roberto’s future is real simple. It’s Sunday,” Vigneault said. “He’s got to focus on Sunday. He’s no different than a quarterback. A quarterback is a hit away from going back into the game or Schneid’s taking the puck somewhere, etcetera. He’s got to focus on Sunday like the rest of our group.”
For Luongo, that means be ready in case he’s needed and support Schneider, 26, who has just three playoff starts under his belt.
“We’re good friends. He’s been behind me 100% since day one since he’s been there, works extremely hard in practice. He’s always been a great team guy, so I’m going to do the same for him,” Luongo said.
Besides, the Canucks are still in a big hole. They need Schneider to be stopping pucks, not feeling swarmed by a goalie controversy.
“I’ve won one playoff game. Roberto won 15 last spring. I don’t think we can jump the gun, it’s a good start, but if you lose the next game, I don’t think people will remember that you want 1-2 in the playoffs,” Schneider said. “It’s good to get the experience and to try to win as many games as I can, but at the same time, I still have a lot to prove.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak