The fall of Capt. Luongo
By Tom HawthornSpecial to The Globe and Mail
December 31, 2008
The shot heard 'round the province seemed such an innocent thing.
On the afternoon of Nov. 22, at 4 minutes 54 seconds of the first period in a game at Pittsburgh, Philippe Boucher of the Penguins fired the puck from the point.
Roberto Luongo was ready. Kneeling in a butterfly position, the Vancouver Canucks goaltender moved his left leg to block the shot. When the puck instead ricocheted to his right, Mr. Luongo reflexively flicked his right leg.
He was attempting a physical position nature had not intended.
He collapsed face-first on the ice.
He was skated to the dressing room by teammates Ryan Kesler and Taylor Pyatt, the goalie placing his weight on his right leg, the left trailing behind. A photograph of the pair escorting the goalie looked like the painting The Death of General Wolfe, as all around looked on in horror at the fallen warrior.
As it turned out, the Canucks won a game, but lost a superstar.
The goalie's groin is “strained, not torn,” the club insisted in announcing he had suffered an adductor-muscle strain on the left side of his groin. Like a James Bond cocktail, the precision of the description is key. In this case, it is the fans who are both stirred and shaken.
Hours after the injury, a sports reporter wrote: “Roberto Luongo walked Sunday,” as if to reassure diehard fans and obsessive poolsters that the goalie's fate was better than that of Gen. Wolfe.
Here are some statistics. Mr. Luongo wears sweater No. 1, stands 6 foot 3, weighs 205 pounds. He has a save percentage of .928 and a goals-against average of 2.17. He has been watching games from the press box for five weeks and he still leads the National Hockey League in shutouts with five.
When you combine the words “Roberto Luongo” with “groin” on Google, you get 86,700 hits.
Comedian Torben Rolfsen says the goalie possesses the most talked-about nether parts since Sharon Stone appeared in Basic Instinct.
I will say this.
I know more about his groin than I do my own.
(In a city that gave us a band called Bruno Gerussi's Medallion, how long before some smart-aleck punks call themselves Roberto Luongo's Groin?)
The concern over Mr. Luongo's health reached a crisis in the week before Christmas when a radio station reported the goalie is lost for the season. The club insists the athlete is being evaluated on a week-by-week basis.
Why so much ink over one player's inguinal injury?
Mr. Luongo, the team's captain, is regarded as a cornerstone of its success. No Bobby Lou, no long playoff run. No long playoff run, no additional revenue from ticket sales, no jam-packed bars and restaurants, no (temporary) newspaper circulation gains, no out-of-towners staying in downtown hotels, no cops making tons of overtime while eyeballing celebratory fans. A lot of money rides on that adductor.
Goalies can have strained relations with their body parts, especially involving what is euphemistically referred to as a lower-body injury. A recitation of Czech-born goaltender Dominik Hasek's many groin injuries reads like a Franz Kafka tale as told to Feodor Dostoyevsky. (Note to hockey fans who have stumbled onto the news pages – the latter pair are dead writers, not checking forwards to watch at the 2010 Olympics.) So dark and so bizarre were Mr. Hasek's struggles with his health that the sports columnist Mitch Albom once wrote a dialogue between the injured goalie's brain (“I can come back”) and his groin (“I'm feeling a twinge. I'm not kidding”).
The media reports on Mr. Luongo's condition read like war dispatches:
Dec. 1 – Luongo skated a few laps, but did not take shots.
Dec. 2 – Luongo spent an hour on the ice.
Dec. 5 – Luongo faced “controlled shots” during practice.
Dec. 9 – Luongo returns to practice.
Dec. 11 – Luongo left practice early.
Dec. 13 – Luongo suffers a setback and will no longer take to the ice.
The Canucks have twice made the finals of the seemingly never-ending Stanley Cup playoffs. The euphoria of the 1982 and 1994 springs was a joy to behold. Okay, both ended in disappointment, and the white surrender towels of '82 would have been handy during the riots of '94. Still, the mood of the province is affected by the team's fortunes.
British Columbia is scheduled to hold a provincial election on May 12, just about the time the serious contenders in the playoffs make their move. The winner (of the election) will welcome the world to the 2010 Winter Olympics the following February.
No sporting event at those Games will be more closely watched than the men's hockey tournament. One of the likely goaltenders for Team Canada will be a workhorse Montreal-born netminder. That would be Martin Brodeur.
Another likely goaltender for Team Canada will be a workhorse Montreal-born puck-stopper who answers to the name Luongo.
In the coming months, we will be hearing as much about a goalie's groin as we can stomach.
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