Luongo injury could determine Vancouver’s fate

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008

By Lucas Aykroyd

When Roberto Luongo strained his groin while making a routine save on Pittsburgh defenseman Philippe Boucher on November 22, Vancouver Canucks fans had genuine reason for concern.

Their superstar captain has amassed 11 wins, five losses, and two ties for his team so far this year, along with a 2.17 GAA and .928 save percentage. But as Luongo told a news conference at GM Place two days later, he’ll be sidelined “week to week” with the injury.

“It’s the first time I’ve had an injury like this,” Luongo said. “I’ll be working hard with the training staff and the medical guys and try to get back as soon as possible, but I really don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

The 29-year-old Montreal native is one of the league’s ultimate workhorses, averaging 75 games over the last four years. He’s widely expected to be Canada’s starting goalie on home ice at the 2010 Olympics. So needless to say, Luongo’s absence places tremendous pressure on backup Curtis Sanford, who now becomes the starter. Sanford has never played more than 34 games in an NHL season (2005-06, when he posted a 2.66 GAA and .908 save percentage).

“We’re dealing with adversity head-on right now,” said Sanford. “We’ve had some key players out with injuries in the last few weeks. But I’m feeling more and more comfortable with every game.”

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Cory Schneider has been called up from the Manitoba Moose to serve as the second-stringer. He had 10 wins and just one loss in the AHL before the recall, and is considered one of the top goaltending prospects outside the NHL.

“You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially a guy like Louie,” said Schneider. “He’s such a good guy and a great goalie. But this is how opportunities are created.”

The Canucks got off to a good start in this no-Luongo era, as Sanford made 32 stops in a 3-2 overtime win over the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on November 24.

The return of Pavol Demitra to the lineup on November 15 has sparked the offence, as the slick Slovak is averaging close to a point per game, teaming up smartly with the Sedin twins. If the Canucks can continue to muster a stellar defensive effort, despite the absence of defenseman Kevin Bieksa (broken foot), it’s not necessarily a given that the team will fall out of contention for the Northwest Division crown.

But of course, the organization and fans will eagerly anticipate the return of King Louie. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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