Islanders' Young Goalie
Taking the Luongo Way
The Islanders' 20-year-old phenom goaltender, Roberto Luongo, made his NHL debut on the night of Nov. 28, but the most telling event of that day occurred several hours before he made 43 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Bruins. Coach Butch Goring had informed Luongo of his impending start in the lobby of the team's hotel that afternoon. Goring had waited to deliver the news because, he says, "I didn't want Roberto to be nervous for too long." Nervous? Luongo smiled at Goring's good tidings, went to his room to phone his family and then drifted into peaceful sleep. How's that for a wide-eyed rookie?
At week's end Luongo was 2-3-1 for hapless New York (7-18-5-0), but it was more his unflappable manner than his strong play that led the Islanders to trade veteran goalie Felix Potvin and a draft pick to the Canucks on Sunday for right wing Bill Muckalt, center Dave Scatchard and goalie Kevin Weekes. With the deal, Luongo, who says "this is the best league in the world, and I believe I belong here," became not only the Islanders' goalie of the future but also the present.
Until last month New York had hoped to keep Luongo, whom scouts regard as the best goalie prospect in the game, in the American Hockey League this year so that he could gain experience and develop his puck-handling skills. Then a season-ending shoulder injury to Islanders backup netminder Wade Flaherty necessitated Luongo's call-up. "That changed things pretty quickly," says general manager Mike Milbury. "We had to bring in Roberto, and once he was here, he had to play."
The Islanders had been reluctant to summon Luongo because the team is bad and the front office feared the rookie's confidence could be harmed. Yet as he split time with Potvin in the weeks before Sunday's trade, the precocious Luongo kept his poise even after tough defeats. "That's what made us rethink things," says Milbury. "When it comes to composure, he's not your average 20-year-old."