In their nearly three decades of existence, the Florida Panthers never had a jersey number retired for a player that suited up for the franchise – until Saturday.
The team sent the No. 1 to the rafters honoring the 11 seasons that goaltender Roberto Luongo manned the net for the Cats in his 20-season career that will almost assure him of a place in hockey’s Hall of Fame.
Surrounded by family and friends inside the BB&T Center, Luongo watched his number honored before Florida’s game against the Montreal Canadians – the hometown team where the son of an Italian immigrant grew up playing the game.
“I’m lucky to be recognized by the Panthers, this is my home. I’m here everyday and feel like I’m part of this team still. One chapter closed and another has been opened for me,” Luongo said before the ceremony.
The fourth overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, Luongo was traded to Florida before the 2000 season and made the area his home – returning every offseason before making it his permanent home after being acquired by the team before the 2014 season.
“The people and the community is what makes it so great. I did what I could not only on the ice but off the ice,” he said.
An international star net minder who has two gold medals for his time with the Canadian national team in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, Luongo was in goal for the Panthers’ last team to make the postseason – something the franchise had hopes of getting back to before a eight game home losing streak entering Saturday.
A member of the team’s front office now as an assistant to team president Dale Tallon, Luongo was a star off the ice as well, most recently being one of the franchise’s faces in the community after the deadly Parkland mass shooting in February 2018 – a moment that hit close to home in Luongo’s adopted hometown.
“It’s not in the public eye as much anymore, but we still feel it,” Luongo said when asked by NBC 6. “You feel what they’re feeling. You can look in each other’s eyes and know we’re there for each other.”