When the Hockey Hall of Fame called Roberto Luongo with the news he would be inducted as part of the Class of 2022, it was a bit of a relief.
Luongo had been waiting a long time for that call — so what were a couple more hours?
Florida general manager Bill Zito had told Luongo to be by his phone around noon that day in June.
Zito had given Luongo the wrong timeline.
“This is where I’m going to throw Bill under the bus a little bit,’’ Luongo said as he recounted the day he got the news he would be a Hall of Famer.
“That morning, Billy told me to expect the call around noon — usually they call right at noon. ‘So, make sure you’re by your phone at noon.’ I was like, ‘OK, no problem. I’ll be ready just in case.’ So noon rolls around and nothing. Then it’s 12:30, 1 o’clock. I go to Bill, tell him I’m not getting in. He looked confused. It was the wrong time. They called me at 2. I ran into the office and closed the door.”
Luongo said the call from the Hall of Fame was “overwhelming” and came not long after he played his final game with the Panthers.
From his NHL debut with the New York Islanders on Nov. 28, 1999, until his final game with the Panthers on April 6, 2019, Luongo had been building up to this phone call.
The first people he told were those in the team offices; then he called home to speak with wife Gina whom he met during his early years with the Panthers.
Her father Bobby Cerbone owned the popular Pizza Time restaurant not far from the team’s training facility in Coral Springs and the two were married in 2005.
When Mike Keenan traded Luongo to Vancouver in 2006 in the midst of a contentious contract dispute, few were as upset as Cerbone was.
He was also pretty happy when Dale Tallon brought Roberto back in 2013.
Luongo never really left South Florida upon the big trade in 2006, living in Vancouver during the regular season but remaining in Broward County during the summer and using the Panthers’ ice for offseason training.
After leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 where they lost in 7 games to the Bruins, things eventually soured a bit in Vancouver with the situation coming to a head during the 2012-13 season under coach John Tortorella.
Tallon had heard Luongo wanted out of Vancouver and the feeling was starting to become mutual on the Canucks’ side of things so the two worked out a deal at the trade deadline.
Luongo was back in South Florida where he played out the remainder of his career.
And although he only made it to the playoffs one time as a player with the Panthers, he hopes to help the team as a member of the front office.
Luongo did not win the Stanley Cup in net, but that does not mean he is still not chasing it.
“This is home now, this is where we’re going to be and I love it here,’’ Luongo said. “Obviously, that’s why I’m here. It’s a great community and we really enjoy living in South Florida. Being part of this organization means a lot to me; it meant a lot to me while I was playing and does so now. It has been a big part of my life.
”Even though I am not on the ice, I feel like I am still contributing. I still feel like I have skin in the game and have the same emotion when there is a game on TV or I’m at the rink. I enjoy that part of it and I am still trying to help this team win the Stanley Cup.’’
The Hockey Hall of Fame has some new faces!
The latest group of inductees get their first look at their new plaques.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 11, 2022
Luongo has been in Toronto the past couple of days for the Hall of Fame celebration. He got his Hall of Fame ring on Friday, played center in the Legends Classic game at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday.
On Monday night, he will officially be enshrined into the Hall of Fame with a large gathering of family and friends in town for the festivities.
Zito and longtime goalie coach Robb Tallas are among those who flew up on Sunday.
Luongo also becomes the first longtime player from the Panthers to make it to the Hall.
There are now six members of the Hall of Fame who played for the Panthers with a number just getting a cup of coffee with the team usually at the end of the careers.
As far as players who spent a nice piece of their careers in Florida, there is Pavel Bure and Luongo.
Both have an obvious link to the Vancouver Canucks as well.
Luongo, who holds most if not all of the goalie records in franchise history for both the Panthers and Canucks, is the only player in Florida history to have his number retired by the team.
“Obviously my number is retired here so it does mean a lot to me,’’ Luongo said. “I did spend a lot of time in Vancouver and that franchise means a lot to me as well. Both places have been great and played huge parts of my career. I am in Florida now, finished my career here and work for the team.”
Luongo, who had two separate stints as a player with the Panthers and is now in the team’s front office, will go into the Hall with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two of his former teammates with the Canucks.
“One of the things I was most excited about when I found out,” Luongo said. “Those are two of the nicest people I know and were great teammates and we had some great memories in Vancouver. The fact I get to share this with them at the same time, it made me excited about going there.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Panthers won 2-1 (d. Capitals 4-2 in first round)
- All-time regular season series: Washington leads 67-43-12, 9 ties