Luongo hangs up the pads
by Andrew Podnieks|26 JUN 2019
Roberto Luongo won his second Olympic gold medal in Sochi 2014.
photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images
Roberto Luongo, the 40-year-old goalie of the Florida Panthers, has decided to retire from hockey. He made his announcement via a deeply personal and passionate letter to Panthers fans Wednesday afternoon, citing the constant battle to keep his ailing hip going as the main reason.

“Since I had my hip surgery a couple of years ago,” he explained, “I've been showing up two hours before every practice and three hours before every game to work out my hip. Even at night, whether it was the night before a game or even a night off, there I was rolling out, doing strengthening exercises. My entire life revolved around recovery, strengthening and making sure I was ready to go the next day.”

His retirement ends a tremendous career, both in the NHL and internationally, for Team Canada. Drafted 4th overall by the New York Islanders in 1997, he was the highest drafted goalie ever to that date. He finished his career in the QMJHL, during which time he also played at both the 1998 and 1999 World Juniors. In the latter event, in Manitoba, he led Canada to a silver medal and was named IIHF Directorate Best Goalie.

After only one year with the Islanders, though, Luongo was traded to Florida after Rick DiPietro was deemed New York’s goalie for the future. Thus began a career-long passion for Florida, the team for whom he played 11 of his 19 NHL seasons. 

His first stint with the Panthers lasted five, frustrating years. He established himself as one of the league’s best goalies, routinely leading the league in shots faced and saves made, but he did so on a weak Panthers team that never made the playoffs during this time.

As a result, though, Luongo played for Canada at four World Championships in the early 2000s – 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005, during which time he won two gold and a silver. He also played for Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, a victorious one for the Canadians.

Luongo was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in the summer of 2006, thus beginning the most successful part of his career. He was named team captain in 2008, the first goalie to serve as such in 60 years (the NHL later banned goalies from being captain). In eight seasons, he won 30 or more games six times and took the Canucks to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, losing to the Boston Bruins. That one game proved to be the only thing between him and making history as the only goalie ever to achieve Triple Gold Club status. 

He earned two gold medals at the Olympics during this period of his career, first in 2010 as the number-one goalie for the historic victory on home ice, in Vancouver, and four years later as Carey Price’s backup in Sochi. 

At the trade deadline late in the 2013-14 season, Luongo was sent back to Florida, and it was there he played the final five and a half years of his career. By the time he decided to retire, he had put up remarkable numbers. 

Consider he is one of only three goalies to play 1,000 regular-season games, and his total of 1,044 is ahead of Patrick Roy (1,029) and behind only Martin Brodeur (1,266). Luongo’s 489 career wins is third behind Brodeur (691) and Roy (551), and his 59,878 minutes played is also third all time after Brodeur (74,439) and Roy (60,214). His 77 shutouts are ninth all time.

In addition to winning the Jennings Trophy in 2010-11, Luongo was nominated for the Vezina Trophy three times (2003-04, 2006-07, 2010-11), the Lester B. Pearson Award twice (2003-04, 2006-07), and the Hart Trophy (2006-07).

Luongo’s two Olympic gold medals also puts him in rare IIHF company among goaltenders as only Vladislav Tretiak (three) and Brodeur (two) have won as many. 

With Luongo moving on, that leaves but four active NHL players who skated in the 1990s: Zdeno Chara, Matt Cullen, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton.

“Now I suppose I have to tell you what comes next, but to be honest, I'm not really sure yet,” Luongo said towards the end of his letter to Panthers’ fans. “Right now, for me, the most important thing is to take a couple of months off: let my body rest, enjoy some time with family, be home with the kids every day. We're moving into a new house in late July, so it's going to be pretty busy. Eventually, hockey is in my blood and I still want to be involved somehow, whatever it may be.”

With those words he departs the game as a goalie, but one can’t help but think those words also prophesy a time in the future when he is back in the game. Fans around the world can only hope so.