Q. Congratulations on your admission to the Hall of Fame. It’s only been an hour since you received the news, but what’s so special about your playing career ending like this?
Luongo: It’s very special, but I feel like it hasn’t touched me yet. At the moment it seems a bit surreal. When you play, you don’t play hockey to get into the Hall of Fame, right? You are playing to win the Stanley Cup. It’s only when your career is over that you start thinking about other things. As soon as my playing career ended, I immediately went into management. I really didn’t think about it. A lot of people have brought this to my attention, but on a personal level, I didn’t think much about it, maybe a couple of months (back) when I knew it was just around the corner.
Q: Your move to Florida along with Olli Jokinen is considered one of the best in the history of the team. Do you remember how you knew you were going to join the Panthers?
Luongo: I actually remember it clearly because it was a bit of a weird day. It was recruiting day. I was in Montreal at my parents’ house, watching the news. I saw my goalkeeping partner, Kevin Weeks, get traded an hour before. When I got the call, I thought the (Islanders) were calling me to let me know that they would give me a chance next year to be that guy. But no, they called me to say that I was also sold. It was a complete shock to me to find out that I was going to Florida when I found out about it.
Q. Played at least 70 games in four consecutive seasons and finished two of them with the league leader on goal. Those years were harsh. Poor target support. Long streaks. What can you say about being able to withstand the mental and physical stress you faced in your early years?
Luongo: That was my engine. I was just trying to get comfortable in the NHL and try to establish myself as a starter. Those were my first few years in Florida. Obviously, I was a little frustrated that I was not winning as much as I would like. But at the same time I was young and just wanted to be the best goalkeeper I could be at the time. That’s why I played so many games and faced so many shots every night. It actually made me a better goalkeeper. Even though I didn’t have a lot of success in terms of wins, I think it really played a big role in the rest of my career.
Q. You even had a special fan club – “Legion Luongo” – created by your father-in-law Umberto. Was there a moment when you knew Florida was your home?
Luongo: When the Legion showed up, it was my father-in-law and my wife’s uncle. They began to come to the game dressed as Roman soldiers. They had drums, trumpets and flags. It made me feel at home. Meeting my wife and getting married, this place became our home. These are the people who first welcomed me to Florida and made me feel like part of their family. It has played a huge role in the rest of my life – non-hockey – but I think it really made me feel at home and comfortable in Florida. It calmed me when I was on the ice.
Q: Around 2005-2006 there was a lot of discussion about your future here. The Panthers were unstable at the time, but you still wanted to be here. When something didn’t work out, you were exiled to the most remote place, possibly one of the worst deals in Florida. Can you take us at that time?
Luongo: I don’t remember everything specifically, but I do remember that it was the last year of my contract. We haven’t had much success as a team. At that point, I wanted to make sure ownership was about winning and bringing in a team that would be competitive and try to make the playoffs every year. At that point, I was trying to get a shorter contract because I wanted to make sure the owner was serious. My plan was to never leave. I didn’t intend to leave the team. And if I did, I told them that I would let them know in advance that I’m not the type of guy to just walk away from them. So I had this understanding. Then, when the day of the draft came, we were approaching the deadline. There was a contract on the table that we ended up accepting, but by the time I called them back to accept it, the deal was already done and on its way to Vancouver.
Question: It seemed that the situation gave you the motivation to show everyone what a serious mistake the Panthers made. How did this experience inspire you?
Luongo: Anything I can use to motivate, I take, right? Going to Vancouver, the first year I was there, we made the playoffs. That’s all I ever wanted was to make the playoffs. I think that’s why you play this game. We had a few mistakes and we came very close to one year (2011). Unfortunately, we missed one game. But some of the best experiences, especially in the postseason, have been in Vancouver. It was so fun to be a part and a huge part of my career.
Q: Your time in Vancouver was epic: two 40-win seasons, two Olympic gold medals – one on home ice, one in your ancestral home of Italy – and a deep Stanley Cup win. What are the highlights during this time?
Luongo: There are several. The first was the gold medal match in Vancouver in 2010. It was a pressure I had never felt before. It wasn’t just a city; it was a whole country. The fact that it was in Vancouver made it really special for me to be there. The other was reaching the final in 2011. The first was against the Blackhawks. We were 3-0 up that series and they came back to force Game 7 and then overtime started. I had to make a big save for (Chicago’s Patrick) Sharpe, then (Vancouver’s Alex) Burroughs came out and scored. It was one of the most exciting moments in my career. If you look at how we celebrated after scoring, it looked like we won the Stanley Cup, but it was the first round of the playoffs. That’s how much it meant to us because the Blackhawks had eliminated us in previous seasons and it was a rivalry. We brought them back to this series. Then, obviously, the Finale. There was an emotional roller coaster attached to it. I had great emotions in Vancouver in three of those first four games. The shutouts and overtime wins were amazing.
Q. Your story became a storybook when you returned to Florida. Your palm tree emoji tweet sent Hockey Twitter into a frenzy. Have you ever thought that it is possible to end your career here? How special was this opportunity?
Luongo: It’s strange because my trading saga has been going on for over a year. This dragged on for quite some time. At first I thought that maybe there is a chance to return home. And then, a few months later, I realized that it was probably impossible. I opened myself to other ideas and other possibilities. At some point, I really thought I was going somewhere else. At the deadline, it sort of fell apart at the last minute. And next year (2014) I did not expect it at all. When they called me and said that I was returning to Florida, I was in shock.
Q. Sticking to Twitter – you’re really funny. You called it therapeutic. Why is “Strombone” your nickname? Does that mean “sad trombone”?
Luongo: No, it’s not really like that. But it’s a good idea. There is more than one value. But one of them is when I was in high school, I played the trombone. And one of my favorite dishes is Stromboli. It somehow converges. The therapeutic part for me is one of my biggest weaknesses because I have always taken it to heart when people said negative things about me. It affected me negatively. As soon as I created this account, I kind of started making fun of myself. I quickly realized that when you start laughing at yourself, other people don’t laugh at you at all. It was kind of a way to understand that sometimes you can’t take everything so seriously. Even if they wrote or tweeted bad things about me, I learned to brush it off and understand: hey, listen, you can never make everyone happy. There will always be some people who will be against you and others who will be for you. That is life. It took me a while to figure it out, but once I figured it out, it was great. It was amazing for me, especially psychologically. I associate it with the goalkeeper, with the ability to overcome these obstacles with different things, right? Even if there is a bad game, it happens. It’s just easier for me to overcome these obstacles.
Q. What did you enjoy most about your second time with the Panthers?
Luongo: That was the year we made the playoffs. That was the only thing I regretted when I left the first time – we never made the playoffs. When I returned, this was my main goal. I just wanted to be in the playoffs with the Florida Panthers. I had many years in Vancouver but never witnessed it in Florida and we were able to make it happen. We’ve had a great season. I think we won 12 games in a row at some point. We approached The Islanders feeling pretty good, and it was a good show. He was close and could go in any direction. We have failed. But I had to experience what it was like to be in the playoff atmosphere in Florida, which was great.
Q: You were teammates with Jaromir Jagr. Guys like Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trochek were still young then and were in awe of him. Was it amazing for you too?
Luongo: Of course. He sat in the booth next to me. Just to look at him… It’s crazy how much energy he had for a guy his age. He was always doing something. He was always busy. He always wore ankle weights. I didn’t understand how he got so much energy at that age. It was crazy. I think what I learned most from him was the work ethic. I thought I worked hard. But when I looked at him, it was even incomparable. He’s a great guy and it’s been great for the franchise to have him around for these few years.
Q: The Panthers made you the first player in franchise history to have their number retired…