Luongo back in net for NHL Skills Competition — and was part of one of night’s highlights
He heard the chants so many times during his career with the Florida Panthers.
So it was only natural for Roberto Luongo to hear it a few more times on Friday on the ice he called home for more than half of his NHL career.
“Never gets old,” Luongo said.
For the first time in more than four years, Luongo put on his goalie gear and his now-retired No. 1 Panthers sweater to defend the net at FLA Live Arena — although it was called a slew of other names during his two stints with the team (first National Car Rental Center, then Office Depot Center, then Bank Atlantic Center and finally BB&T Center) — as the celebrity goaltender in the breakaway challenge at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.
“They asked me if I was interested,” Luongo, who was a six-time All-Star in his 19-year NHL career, said this week. “I don’t know why I said yes. It’s been four years since I’ve put the pads on. I went on the ice [Tuesday] for the first time and I’m still feeling it in my legs, but it was fun to have the gear back on. After four years off, it felt better than I thought it would.”
Now, Luongo didn’t face everyone who participated in the breakaway challenge. Boston’s David Pastrnak’s performance, for example, went without a goaltender as he did a “Happy Gilmore” skit.
But some the attempts Luongo was on the ice for were memorable.
The highlight of the event — and the night, really, came when 4-year-old Sergei Ovechkin joined his dad Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for a three-on-none breakaway and got the puck past Luongo — a performance that got a perfect score of 40 from the judges (Adam DiMarco of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” Dylan Playfair of Hulu’s “Letterkenny,” professional tennis player Victoria Azarenka, and WWE superstars Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins).
“Well, I know his dad’s a shooter,” Luongo said, “so when [Sergei] had it on his stick I was ready for a shot but he actually went with the deke so it caught me off guard there.”
Luongo opened the event by stopping the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitchell Marner, who dressed as James Crockett from Miami Vice and scored just a 21.
He ended the event with a beach-themed attempt from Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk, who got assists from his brother Brady Tkachuk (lounging in a beach chair), Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov (in a lifeguard suit) and the Miami Dolphins’ Christian Wilkins, who gave Luongo a pool noodle to replace his stick and a pair of sunglasses for the goaltender to wear under his mask.
The score? Surprisingly only a 33.
Overall, it was a refreshing night of nostalgia for the 43-year-old Luongo. He took part in warm-ups (“It was the best part,” he said, “because I got to take a lot of shots from NHL players”), got comfortable in the crease and enjoyed another night on the ice.
“Brought back some good memories to be back in the blue paint here,” Luongo said.
While this was Luongo’s first time in net at FLA Live Arena since April 6, 2019, it’s not the last time he’s been on the ice in a semi-competitive format. He has competed in a pair of alumni games over the past four months — first in November as part of the Pro Hockey Hall of Fame festivities in November and then again on Wednesday as part of a Panthers-hosted alumni game at the IceDen in Coral Springs as part of the lead up to the All-Star Game.
Luongo, however, played forward in both of those games.
On Wednesday, he had two assists and a goal in the final seconds but the Panthers alumni team lost to a team of NHL alumni 15-11 that night.
“The pace in this one was a little too fast for me,” Luongo said. “I felt a little lost, but I do enjoy it. We’ll see. Maybe the next one I’ll go back in net.”