Hockey’s Future Interview with Roberto Luongo

By Mark Fischel
In a disappointing season for the Panthers, there has not been too many thing for fans to get excited about, but there has been two constants all season that have brought optimism for next season. The record-breaking season by Pavel Bure, and the exemplary play of Roberto Luongo.

In the midst of a streak that has seen Roberto lose only once in his last nine starts (3-1-5), Roberto has been keeping the Panthers competitive in every one of these games. In the last three games alone, he has stopped 110 of 114 shots (.965 sv), and has allowed two goals or less in six of the last 9 starts, and 14 goals in his last 23 starts.

The night before playing Montreal to a 2-2 tie, a game in which he faced 40 shots, 23 of which came in one period alone, Roberto was gracious enough to speak with Hockey’s Future regarding his season so far, and his thoughts on a variety of other topics

HF: What were your initial impressions of coming down to South Florida, and what do you like about it the most?

Roberto: Well my first impression was shock; not the fact that I was coming to Florida, but the fact that I got traded. Funny thing is, the night before the Draft I was just joking around with my friends and I said that the best places to go are Florida and L.A. as the best cities I think to play hockey in. Next thing you know I was got traded and I’m in Florida. You know, I love it down here; it’s great. The weather is great. It’s a great team and organization and just a great place to play hockey.

HF:The future of DiPietro and yourself are going to be linked for the next decade. Having the chance to finally watch DiPietro play, what is your overall opinion of his skills?

Roberto: It’s tough to say, you know, he’s still really young. It’s his first year in the League. Obviously he’s got great puck handling skills, that’s the first thing that jumped out when I saw him play a few weeks ago. He’s got a lot of quickness too, he definitely has the tools to become a great goalie. Now it all depends if he has his head in the right place in the next few years to develop as a great goalie.

HF:With the Panthers offensive averaging slightly over two goals a game being scored, how does that weigh on you mentally that if you let in more than 2 goals, you might come away with a loss?

Roberto: At the beginning of the year, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I was saying to myself I can’t let in more than two or three goals because I’ll lose the game, but that hurt me a lot in the beginning. It’s been a few months now that I just say to myself, “Go out there and have fun; try and keep your team in the game and see what happens.” You can’t score goals, so you might as well just do your best in front of the net.

HF:How much communication do you have with your defensemen on the ice, and with all the injuries to the defensive corps, has that hindered your communication?

Roberto: It’s important when you got new bodies in the lineup every night to have good communication and just make sure that everybody knows what you’re doing and obviously, I’m trying to communicate with the defensemen as much as possible and they’re trying to do the same. There’s room for improvement, but obviously it’s a big factor in the game.

HF:How did playing in the offense-first QMJHL help your development as a goalie? And to you, what was the biggest difference when you started to play in the AHL?

Roberto: It was very good for me in the “Q” because first of all there’s a lot of shots; you get 40 shots almost every night; lot of breakaways; lot of two-on-ones so that helps a lot of the aspects of the game that you don’t see a lot on the professional level. Obviously when I got into the AHL last year, I noticed that they’re more defensive in that League. It’s much easier to face those kinds of scenarios now that I’d faced them for four years in the “Q”.

HF:What are your mental preparations before game-time? Are you relaxed with your teammates, or do you need to be in a zone free from all distractions?

Roberto: I like to keep to myself and not get too involved with people talking in the room and stuff like that. Just concentrate on my own game, basically, and what I have to do to be at the top of my game.

HF:During the game, how do you manage to keep your positioning while the screen is set, and are you relying on instinct or are your defensemen vocalizing to you what is occurring?

Roberto: The main thing is when you got a screen you have to work really hard to move your head side-to-side to get a good look at where the shots coming from and once the shot is taken you just challenge, come out and try and take as much net as possible even though you don’t see the shot.

HF:Besides pitching a shut-out, what would be your perfect game from a technical standpoint?

Roberto: Obviously, no technical mistakes. Don’t give up on rebounds; don’t go make the first move and don’t be stationary and always having good posture, you know sometimes you see goalies making saves on their back or stuff like that and that’s not a situation I wanna be in. I want to always be in control and on my knees.

HF:Of all the stats that are used to judge goaltenders, which is the one that you look at the most or if you do look at your stats?

Roberto: It would be save percentage. I think that’s the most important stat for a goalie. Wins, goals against, average – those are all stats that are important, but I think the most individual stat that you can find for a goaltender is the save percentage, because the rest is more of a team thing.

HF:Do you watch film of your play on a regular basis, and what part of your game do you try to work on most, and what has Billy Smith had you change that you might not have been aware of?

Roberto: I like to look at tape once in a while especially when things aren’t going so well just to see a few aspects that I need to maybe change just to get back on top of my game that I’ve changed from the past. With Billy, I think it’s the work with my glove. I’ve noticed I’ve been catching a lot more pucks lately with my glove, especially shots that are aimed towards my body instead of just stopping with my body, I just catch it so I don’t give any rebounds.

HF:Facing Bure in daily practices, especially in the 1-on-1 drills he likes to do till he scores, would you say he has almost a pathological need to score goals? How much has facing him every practice help to improve your game?

Roberto: (Laughs) I do, but the thing is he doesn’t do that against me actually; he does it against Trevor so I am lucky I don’t have to face him every day in a breakaway competition. Obviously, he thrives on goal scoring and you see in practice that he wants to score every time he’s got the puck.

HF:What opposing team this year has been the most challenging to play against, and what player would you least like to see coming at you on a breakaway?

Roberto: There’s a few. I’ve faced almost every team this year and I would say that obviously New Jersey stands out. They’ve won every game we’ve played against them this year, so they’re definitely a good team. Also Colorado and St. Louis are two teams that stick out in my mind. Mario and Jagr! The last game at home they were both in front of the net all by themselves and that’s something you don’t want to see in a game.

HF:What are your plans for the off-season? Will you stay here, Canada, or will you do the hockey school in Switzerland again?

Roberto: The Switzerland thing was just one-year deal last year because every year the goalie coach takes a new guy to bring with him for a new experience. I’m probably going to stay here for three weeks or a month after the season over and then I’ll head back to Montreal, Canada for the Summer with my family and friends.

HF:When travelling, do you get your own room on the road like the former Panther goalies?

Roberto: Yeah, the goaltenders have their own rooms. They’re pretty fortunate that way.

HF:For young kids starting to learn to play goalie, what would you tell them to focus on as being the most important aspects to learn first?

Roberto: The first thing is you have to love the position. If you don’t love the position and you don’t have an admiration, you’re never going to succeed. As long as you work hard and listen to your coach, everything is going to develop well and give it time and it’ll turn out well.

HF:Being that this is a game that a lot of people and some professionals love to play for fun, when are you having the most fun on the ice?

Roberto: I think the moments I enjoy the most in the game are in key situations when the crowd is into it and it’s the last seconds of the game and the scored is tied or something like. It’s just moments that get my adrenaline going and makes you feel like you’re a part of something major.

HF:Most goalies are notorious in their equipment demands and needs, do you favor a particular brand of equipment?

Roberto: I wear Koho equipment. I’m sponsored by them, so obviously I have to wear that equipment. I would say that with all the equipment that’s out there today, it’s one of the best, if not the best. (Editors Note: Memo to Koho reps: For this free plug of your fine equipment, please send donations to deserving youth hockey programs in South Florida!)

HF:Up by 1 goal with a minute left and the far net is empty. You might have a clear lane to try for a goal, but there is a chance that your shot could get picked off. If it is picked off, you are facing a breakaway coming toward you. Do you go for the shot, or do you play it safe?

Roberto: Well, first of all my shot isn’t hard enough (laughing) to shoot it over everybody and score a goal, so I’m probably going to play it safe and shoot it off the glass or in the corner and don’t take any chances.

Coming soon: At the end of the regular season, the Panther page will be fully updated with graduated rookies season profiles, updated depth charts and player rankings, and a comprehensive analysis of all of the Panther rookies seasons in Louisville, Florida, and the Juniors.

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