just left staring at the sky. You don't really know what
happened. Shell-shocked, rattled, you just know it's over. Maybe
you're not really ready to admit it. But you know, in that moment,
that you'll never be the same. You'll never look at this person the
same way. That's where I was in the early evening of June
15th, 2011. Lying in the grass along
false creek as the final buzzer sounded on game
seven, the stark realization hit.
It was over for Roberto Luongo
and I. Less than a year later, the
Canucks’ season ended more suddenly (in overtime), but far less dramatically (a 'writing-on-the-wall' 4-1 series loss to the Los Angeles Kings). Like the end of most relationships, this one had a slow demise stemming from a significant tipping point. As you stare into that sky, before the final ax falls, you have to ask yourself, “How did we get here?”
It's all about
timing. Sure there needs to be chemistry, something that early on
borders on infatuation. First though, you become aware of someone,
noting all their most positive qualities. Your mind races thinking
of all the possibilities you have for them. The trips you'd take.
The times you'd have. The celebrations.
Roberto Luongo came into all our lives as he
backstopped a not-so-talented Canadian Junior
Team to the Gold Medal Game of
the 1999 World Junior Championships. They lost in overtime to a far-better Russian team. Flanking that tournament, Luongo would set playoff records in the QJMHL for wins, on his way to back-to-back (with two different teams) league championships. In the two Memorial Cup appearances, Luongo's teams didn't win a game. Perhaps we should have known then. It's a constant quest; goaltenders are like women. The right one is out there. She has to be. Sure, we'll settle for the James Reimers, the Ondrej Pavelecs, or the Corey Crawfords along the way, because they're fun, or really hot. Even if you know you don't want to spend more than a couple seasons with them. Every once in a while, you stumble onto a potential number one. In the case of Luongo, the Canucks seemingly never had a shot. He was drafted by the inept Islanders, who foolishly then traded him to the Panthers. They never appreciated him. He did everything he could behind their lousy defence. Setting records for shots faced in a season; and stopping a lot of them. Then it happened, like stumbling into the right bar on New Year's Eve, the Canucks got lucky. Sometimes it's easy, other times it's next to impossible to get that girl to notice you. There's almost never an in-between. This one was easy. Todd Bertuzzi (and some other fodder) for Luongo. Big contract extension for Luongo. Done deal. You get the girl to agree to go to dinner with you. Now what?
In the case of the Canucks and Roberto Luongo, things went decidedly well. Like nothing we'd ever felt before. A feeling of reliance, and stability, not previously recognized. Forty-seven wins. That's right. 4-7. That was how many games Luongo won in his first season between the pipes for Vancouver, as he was the runner-up to Sidney Crosby for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. His masterpiece - a 72-save performance in a quadruple overtime playoff win over the Dallas Stars. A series the Canucks would win in seven games. In that series, the Canucks scored 0 goals in the three games they lost. That's right, if they scored, they won. We could get used to this. The Canucks lost to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks in the next round. Despite a 56-save performance, the final game of that series was ended when Scott Niedermayer scored on a long shot that Luongo wasn't paying attention to. Like the faint early signs of emotional instability from a woman, we didn't notice anything. We were in puppy love. Early in a relationship, you'd do anything for the other person, and they would do anything for you. After all, this is the one we're going the distance with. Isn't it?? They can do no wrong in your eyes. Even after missing the playoffs next year, in part due to an exhausted Luongo faltering down the stretch, in bigger part due to the dwindling ability of some former stars, the Canucks proved they felt Luongo was worth their highest honour – Captain.
The CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother is known for a lot of great theories, concepts and rules. Perhaps the best one is the 'Ohhh Moment' from Season Two. This the moment in the relationship when you learn something about the other that is a dealbreaker. The fatal flaw. The funny thing about Ohhh Moments is that even if they come up early on, you're still willing to ride it out, just in case what you saw as an Ohhh Moment wasn't really one. The funny thing is? It always is. For the Canucks, maybe their Ohhh Moment with Luongo should have been sooner. Maybe it should have been the Niedermayer goal (or the earlier bathroom break in that game), maybe it should have been the tears after the 2008 season, or maybe it should have been the Achilles heel that was the United Center. After all, everyone who knows hockey will tell you, Luongo couldn't win in Chicago. All your buddies will say, wait, what about those nights in the 'Madhouse', with the red lights flashing and the loud music? What a mess that was. Except wait a minute, it's a weird thing, perception. The perception is that Luongo gets lit up every time he has a playoff game in Chicago. But, let's take a closer look:
Game 3: 3-1 win (Nice!)
Game 4: 2-1 loss in overtime (that's pretty good)
Game 6: 7-5 loss (oh, well, no one was stopping pucks that night)
Game 1: 5-1 win (Sweet!)
Game 2: 4-2 loss (with an empty-net goal, not great, but 3 goals is no disaster)
Game 5: 4-1 win (Great!)
Game 3: 3-2 win (Another good one!)
Game 4: 7-2 loss (OK, there's a bad one)
Game 6: Didn't start, but gave up one goal, the OT-goal, after stopping 15 shots, in a 4-3 loss.
So, basically, if you ask most people they think Luongo was a sort of disaster in Chicago, when in reality, he acquitted himself somewhere between 'fine' and 'spectacular' in seven of their nine matchups. It's actually AT HOME where he was frequently shaky, with home-ice losses (5-2, 7-4, 5-1) during the 2009 playoff loss to Chicago. The point here is, it wasn't a simple matter of being weak on the road, and comfortable at home. He had good games and he had bad games. Moreover there should have been, and was, plenty of blame to go around for those losses. However, maybe the Ohhh Moment should have been when Luongo gave up a nightly soft goal against an otherwise over-matched Predators team in round two last year. None of these were the case. For every soft goal, there were two spectacular saves. For every bad game, there were two shutouts. For the media, those bad games were far more interesting. For someone who's been the pretty girl at the dance for as long as Luongo has, the longer we stare the more we can pick her apart. Especially if she's not with you. They could say what they wanted about our star, but the fact remained that any goaltender who was the preeminent person at the position for over a decade is going to have a lot of tape to analyze. We don't track everything Pekka Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist do. The future of our Olympic Team doesn't rest on their shoulders. Carey Price will have his chance. Marc-Andre Fleury was fortunate enough to have Crosby and Malkin in front of him to get his ring. Cam Ward caught lightning in a bottle as a rookie. So did Martin Brodeur, to get everyone off his back, allowing him an excuse for numerous shitty playoff performances over the years. Everyone else has sort of come and gone. No one else is a storyline.
So we ignored it all. Everyone has flaws. Who's to say one thing is a fatal flaw and another thing is a cute foible. In relationships, one man's trash is another man's gold. I work at night. To some that might be a deal breaker. To others, perfectly convenient. It depends what you're looking for. If you're confident and independent, you probably don't need someone by your side every night for the rest of your life. If you're a homebody who gets lonely easily then maybe you need that person to cling to each night. Some men don't want their girl as the life of the party. Others are happy to let her loose on the dance floor while he has a relaxing drink with the guys. Different things work for different people. Maybe having a goaltender that gives up no more than three, but no fewer than two goals is something that works for some teams. Maybe we are willing to risk the occasional crash and burn off-night for multiple shutouts in the Stanley Cup Finals. At least, that's what we as Canucks fans told ourselves. Then the Ohhh Moment came. Two chances, one win, all that was needed to win the Stanley Cup. One win that would put up all the misconceptions and the vindictiveness behind. All the baggage goes out the window. The monkey off the back.
First try: Four goals in a 4:14 span in the first period. 4-0. Game over.
Second try: Three goals on 13 shots in the first two periods. 3-0. Dream over.
During our entire relationship, through the ups and the downs, and the seemingly obvious Ohhh Moments, I could always defend Roberto Luongo. “Who else would I definitely rather have?” I'd say. He was always unfairly treated, so I'd defend him. Not because I didn't know the flaws, but because it was the right thing to do. The fair thing to do. And I was right too. There wasn't anyone else I could definitely say I’d rather have in those given moments. But there WAS always someone else...
The thing about relationships is that there IS always someone else.
There are people from the past – Did you give that person a fair chance? Were you unfair to them? Maybe it was bad timing?
There are people from your current – The girl from work you've had a crush on for months. The girl from work you've had a crush on for weeks. The girl from work you've had a crush on for days.
There are people from your future – The idea that there's always someone better. Better for you. Better looking. Smarter. Funnier. Is this person the ONE. Or is that person someone you haven't even met yet?
Of course, any of
these people are going to get the same treatment we gave Luongo at
first. The projection of what could be. The hope for the future.
The idealization. We look at this person, this stranger, this
dream, and we ask “What if?” It's only human nature. Sure enough,
most of the time they disappoint, whether it's a failure to make
the metaphorical playoffs, or an end during the final big stage.
The girl from your past really was an over-emotional nut. The girl
from work really was a cold-hearted ice queen. The girl from the
future? Well, she's still that. In the future.
The Canucks drafted Cory Schneider two years before trading for Roberto Luongo. I dug him almost instantly, following him from afar as he patiently went through three seasons of college hockey and three more in the minors, honing his craft, piling up awards and team success. In fact, when the Luongo trade was announced, after the immediate rush of excitement I promise I thought to myself, “What about Schneider?” At the time, I didn't know that the team would bring him along slowly to the point where he wouldn't reach the NHL as a regular until 2010. Now he's here, and it's been a tremendous courtship for the number one position in our collective hearts. In fact, that's why this season wasn't the waste it may feel like to outsiders, and many Canucks fans. Sure, the first round loss to the Kings is not to be celebrated and remains bitterly disappointing, but this season was never going to be that grand success we'd hoped for. It's just too damned hard. The human body wasn't built to do what you have to do to make the Stanley Cup Finals, get yourself ready the next year, and do it again. It's not a coincidence that Mason Raymond had a terrible year, coming off of back surgery. Nor is it a coincidence that Daniel Sedin got his first concussion, or that Kesler and Bieksa weren't able to make it through the season without their physical breakdowns. What we did learn is that the Canucks can't trade away Cory Schneider. He's ready for us, and we're ready for him.
However, the same potential pitfalls lie ahead. Are we idealizing him? Has the lack of tape on Schneider kept us from an early Ohhh Moment? Will the fatal flaw show up at the absolute wrong time the way it may have with Luongo? Will we be left with nothing after he breaks our hearts the way so many have before?
In the end,
there's no way to know. That's why time-travel is t he
greatest invention we
haven't invented yet. Women. Goaltenders. It's all the same confusing quest to find the right one. The one that constantly exceeds expectations, the one that we can rely on. Does that person exist? Are we better off playing the field, non-committal? Picking up random goalies on the cheap in order to suit our short-term needs like some teams and some men seem content with doing? Did we have the right idea looking for a long-term solution, but we just found the wrong one? And what about Luongo? Will he find peace with another companion? The pressure-free environment of Tampa, replete with all-world scorer Steven Stamkos sure seems like an opportunity to get back to the Finals before it's all said and done. God forbid you trade the right one away.
One man's trash is another man's gold.
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