MIDWAY THROUGH THE SECOND PERIOD OF CANADA'S QUARTERFINAL GAME, goaltender Roberto Luongo kicked aside a sharp wrist shot from Russian winger Alexander Radulov. Canada led 7-2, Luongo had been only lightly tested, and the outcome of the game was all but salted away. Yet the crowd at Canada Hockey Place responded as if Luongo had just made a dramatic game saver, standing and serenading him with their impassioned cry: Louuuuuu. The sound continued as the Canadians rushed the puck to the other end of the ice. And the sound continued still as the Russians brought the puck back; 35 seconds later you could still hear it, unceasing and full: Louuuuuu.
Louuuuuu as in Bobby Lou, which is how Luongo is affectionately known in these parts of Canada.
On a team whose players were beloved like no other athletes at the Olympics, the most beloved of all was the 30-year-old Luongo, the big butterflying goalie who plays his NHL games in the same building where he helped bring gold to Canada. Luongo is the reason that the otherwise ordinary Canucks led the NHL's Northwest Division at the Olympic break. He is by far their best player, the only goalie in the league who is team captain. He is the reason why Vancouverites dare to dream of a Stanley Cup. "Every time we play them," said Mike Babcock, the Team Canada coach who also coaches the Red Wings, "he puts up this wall."
By the standards of the goalie he supplanted in Canada's crease before the Germany game, Martin Brodeur, Luongo's résumé appears slim. He has never won a Vezina Trophy (Brodeur has four) or a Stanley Cup (three for Brodeur) and has a postseason record of 11-11. Luongo, however, is extraordinarily agile and quick and has perhaps the most effective glove hand of any goalie. He is 6' 3" and weighs 205 pounds, and at times when he is between the pipes it looks as if there is simply no place to fit a puck. Some opponents call him the best in the world, and he is similarly confident. When Luongo was a Midget player, a former NHL player asked him whether he was aware of just how skilled he was. "Yeah," Roberto replied.
"Pressure is something I can handle," he said at the Olympics. "It is something I enjoy."
Although he had played only a smattering of big games before 2010—winning the world championship in '03 and '04—he had been heavily tested. Playing for the Panthers in 2003-04, he made 2,303 saves, an NHL record. When the shots are few against him, Luongo sometimes jokes, "That was boring." (Though, no, he did not fall asleep while turning aside 21 of 23 shots against Germany.)
Luongo was raised in the east end of Montreal, a few blocks from Brodeur. He was drafted by the Islanders in 1997 and sent to Florida in 2000. There he made his professional name, signed a multiyear contract and married a local girl. When he was traded to the Canucks in '06, he wept. That, though, was 3½ years before the Vancouver Games. When Luongo prepared for Canada's opener against Norway, there was happiness inside him. He wore a goalie's mask with an image of Johnny Canuck. He came out through the familiar arena tunnel, looked up at the familiar rafters and saw familiar faces in the crowd. And when he touched the puck, in moments great or small, he heard the cries of Louuuuuu and knew that he was home.