Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


Roberto Luongo joked with his customary self-deprecating humour about the surprise he received when newly minted Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong phoned, asking Luongo to come aboard as an assistant general manager.

"Quite honestly, I was shocked, I was floored," Luongo said Wednesday. "I wasn’t expecting it. I thought I was just getting a call to scout some pee wee tournament. But then I realize it was Team Canada for the Olympics in 2022.

"It’s hard to describe the level of excitement that I had when I got the call."

Armstrong made it clear on Wednesday – exactly one year to the day from puck drop in Beijing – as he announced a blue-ribbon staff that has combined to have their names etched on the Stanley Cup nine times, that Luongo was not appointed solely for his goaltending expertise.

Sure, Luongo has that critical position covered as well as he blanketed the crease in his likely Hall of Fame career.

But Armstrong also wants to key in on Luongo’s first-hand, locker room knowledge of today’s Canadian crop starring in the NHL.

Given that Luongo only retired in 2019, that is valuable intel that his other Team Canada counterparts – in associate general manager Ken Holland and fellow assistants Don Sweeney and Ron Francis – can only ascertain second-hand. It’s not better intel, just different.

And Luongo’s fresh perspective may be exactly the kind of advantage on the margin Team Canada needs in their quest next year for a third straight gold medal in Olympic best-on-best competition.

"Roberto joins our group fresh off the ice," Armstrong said in a media conference call. "I want to make sure that everyone realizes he’s here for more than just the goaltenders. His experience, dealing with these players, understanding today’s athlete – it was only a couple years ago that he was participating."

Armstrong estimated that Luongo competed against or played alongside "90 per cent" of the players Team Canada will be evaluating for its 25-man roster. He won two gold medals alongside some of them.

He also played for or against with any number of the candidates that will replace Mike Babcock as Team Canada’s coach – from Alain Vigneault to Barry Trotz, Craig Berube, Rod Brind’Amour, Joel Quenneville, Paul Maurice, Jon Cooper or Bruce Cassidy.

"We’re looking forward to his input," Armstrong said.

Luongo, 41, is one of Hockey Canada’s most decorated Olympians. He wore the Maple Leaf in three straight Olympiads (2006 in Torino, 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi) and enjoyed nearly a complete circle in terms of experience and impact on the roster. He took over for Martin Brodeur in 2010 on home soil and led Canada to gold, but also served as the third netminder once and backup once.

"My first, in Torino, I was kind of the young guy coming in [for] more of a learning experience," Luongo recounted. "The second time, in Vancouver, I was more established but I came in as the backup and I was ready if called upon – and that’s what ended up happening.

"The third time, in Sochi, I was more of a veteran guy but ended up being the backup. I think that was just as important a role for me as the one before. I was being support to not only Carey [Price], but all of the guys in the room. Trying to be a leader in the dressing room, and bring whatever I could to the plate to help the boys be ready for the game."

Those experiences will help Luongo, who heads the Florida Panthers’ department of Goaltending Excellence, pick the best trio in net. He’ll have no shortage of options with Price, Carter Hart, MacKenzie Blackwood, Jordan Binnington, Matt Murray and Darcy Kuemper.

"We’re going to look at everything and be ready to make sure we have the right mix going into next year," Luongo said.

Armstrong made a point to say Wednesday that "youth will be served" on Canada’s roster. He’ll surely tap into the young guns that made up Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, including Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele and maybe Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Some of those selections, Holland pointed out, will be obvious and apparent.

But it is little details like the ones Luongo can provide about personality, comportment and chemistry of the other players in the mix for roster spots that can be the difference between a cohesive unit and an All-Star team.

"I hope I could bring as much as I can to the table," Luongo said. "I know most of them. Whatever experience that I had with them, or that I know, I can share with them."

This isn’t a pee wee tournament, it’s the Olympics – with 37 million ‘special advisors' across the country, as Armstrong said – and Luongo will now get an entirely different view of this two-week, best-on-best pressure cooker.

"It’s hard to describe the level of excitement that I had when I got the call," Luongo said. "I’m really looking forward to it, excited, to put a team together and be part of the process from the other side."

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli