SUNRISE, Fla. – Roberto Luongo’s ascension as an up-and-coming hockey executive has been as quick and profound as was his playing career.
On Wednesday, Luongo was named assistant general manager for Team Canada’s 2022 Men’s Olympic Team.
Hockey Canada’s announcement of its management group included Doug Armstrong as general manager, Ken Holland as associate general manager, Ron Francis, Don Sweeney and Luongo as assistant GM’s and Scott Salmond as senior vice president.
Speaking on a Hockey Canada Zoom call Wednesday afternoon, Luongo tried to convey the astonishment and disbelief he felt when he found out he was being offered the job.
“It’s hard to describe the level of excitement that I had when I got the call,” Luongo said. “Quite honestly, I was shocked. I was floored. I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it was just getting a call maybe to scout some peewee tournament.”
On the contrary.
The man who loves playing fantasy football will now get to select his own fantasy team of sorts, having a say on choosing the three Canadian goaltenders who he believes will best give his country a shot at winning gold.
“It’s an incredible honor to be part of this group,” Luongo said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I’m excited to put a team together and be part of the process from the other side. I’m very grateful to have that opportunity.”
It’s amazing how rapidly Luongo’s star has risen since he announced his retirement June of 2019, quickly becoming a valuable asset in Florida’s front office.
He began as a special advisor to then-GM Dale Tallon, remaining in the role when Bill Zito was hired as Panthers general manager last September.
“Getting away from the game, I think he had a nice approach,” Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said of Luongo after hearing the news Wednesday. “He was observing, he was watching, he was learning.”
Even under new management, Luongo’s talent and intelligence were recognized, and his responsibilities continued to grow.
In November, Zito asked Roberto to lead the team’s innovative new Goaltending Excellence Department, which included Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas, AHL-level goalie coach Leo Luongo (Roberto’s younger brother) and Francois Allaire, one of the top and best-known goaltending coaches in hockey over the past four decades.
Luongo’s playing career, his prowess as a new executive and his experience with Hockey Canada all played a part in the job being offered to the future Hall of Famer.
“His experience dealing with these players, understanding today’s athletes, as only a couple years ago he was participating, and probably I would say 90 percent of the people we’re going to talk about, Roberto’s competed against, so we’re looking for his input,” said Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong. “Roberto has worn the Canadian Jersey with pride at all levels, whether it’s the World Juniors, World Championship or the Olympics.”
Armstrong also mentioned Luongo’s winning pedigree with Team Canada, helping his country win gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.
Through three appearances in consecutive Winter Games, Luongo learned much and at one point or another held each goaltending spot, from wide-eyed youngster to starting in a gold medal game, growing an appreciation what each role entailed.
“When I was involved, that was kind of three different scenarios all three years that I was there,” Luongo explained. “My first time in Torino, I was kind of a young guy coming in and (it was) more of a learning experience. The second time in Vancouver I was more established, but I came in as the backup. I was ready if called upon and that’s what would end up happening. The third time in Sochi was more of the veteran guy but ended up being the backup and I think that was just as important role for me as the one before.
“I was being supported to not only carry all the guys in the room, but trying to be a leader in the dressing room and bring whatever I could to the plate and help the boys be ready for the game.”
Luongo’s understanding of modern-day goaltending and his familiarity with the players that will be under consideration for the 2022 squad will be a major asset for the Canadian front office.
“Whether you’re talking about goaltending or team players, I think his understanding of what’s necessary, what’s needed to win, I think he’s got all that,” Quenneville said.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Luongo will be concentrating on for Team Canada, but Armstrong made a point to mention that when it comes to Roberto, his focus will be entirely on the goalies and nowhere else.
“Roberto is certainly going to have a huge impact on our group as we’re selecting goaltenders, but I want to make sure that everyone realizes, he’s here more for just the goaltenders,” Armstrong said.
To that point, Luongo knows where his value lies, and he plans to share as much of his wealth of knowledge and experience to help the next crop of Team Canada netminders.
“I played with a lot of these guys, I know most of them, so whenever experience I had with them or that I’ve lived myself, I can share that,” Luongo said. “I think it’s important to recognize that every player dreams to play for Team Canada and are willing to accept whatever role they’re given.”
It’s a dream that Luongo fulfilled as a player, and now gets to relive again as an executive.
As for the potential success of Canada’s 2022 squad…based on his past experience, it would be wise not to bet against Roberto Luongo when he’s representing the red and white.
The Beijing Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4, 2022.