VANCOUVER — It’s only natural to get cold feet before stepping to the altar. Happens all the time.
So it makes perfect sense if there are those among Vancouver Canucks fans who are having second thoughts about irrevocably marrying the future of the two-time and defending Presidents’ Trophy-winning hockey club to a goaltender, Cory Schneider, with a grand total of 68 appearances in National Hockey League games — and one (1) playoff win.
Especially when the former occupant of the post, an Olympic gold medallist by the name of Roberto Luongo, has just rehabilitated his tattered image among the faithful with a brilliant eight months’ worth of self-parody on Twitter ... indeed, whose Q-rating among even the jaded media pack has probably never been higher.
Just as he’s about to be shipped elsewhere, he’s been revealed as humble, honourable, hilarious. Just as his run is ending as the Canucks’ last line of defence, he’s rediscovered his comic muse.
Just before he drops the keys to Canada’s best hockey team in the hands of his still-unproven successor, he turns out to be anything but the monotoned automaton — it was never true, for we have seen him cry in defeat — whose few attempts at humour in his own voice always seemed to backfire on him.
And then @Strombone1 was born, the Twitter handle Luongo has never acknowledged as his own, though he came as close as he ever has in an interview Monday. And from that thin cloak of deniability sprang a personality so engaging, reporters are now reconsidering their haste in endorsing the passing of the goaltending torch — even though the recipient, Schneider, is as bright and articulate as Luongo was intentionally vanilla.
Asked if he has any concept of how dramatically @Strombone1 has altered his perception by those within Twitter’s reach, the 33-year-old Luongo started to demur and then came (nearly) clean.
“Uh ... I’ve heard some things about it, yeah,” he said. “It’s a bit of a weird situation, just trying to be myself in general, and sometimes it doesn’t come off in scrums and interviews. So you try to be politically correct.
“So I’m just trying to handle everything the right way and make sure that I put everybody else, the team, ahead of me and handle things the right way.”
“Has that guy got a better sense of humour than Roberto Luongo, or is he just freer to express himself?” your agent asked.
“I think that’s a good point — freer to express it, more than anything else,” Luongo said. “Obviously everything we say is going to be scrutinized when you’re in front of the cameras, so sometimes you just want to hold back and make sure you don’t ruffle any feathers.”
Luongo ruffled more than a few two springtimes ago in the Stanley Cup final against Boston, when his joking references to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas were miscast and repeated ad infinitum — and were again, when he tried to clarify his original remarks — and it may well be that his fate as a Canuck was sealed by the team’s subsequent collapse in that series.
The wounds festered all last season, and the marriage was broken for good when Schneider was handed the start for Game 3 of the Canucks’ first-round defeat by the L.A. Kings.
Now, a new, abbreviated season dawns with back-to-back home games against Anaheim and Edmonton this weekend, and you wonder if, behind the excitement of finally getting his shot eight-plus years after being drafted, there is any trepidation in the 27-year-old Schneider.
“I think it’s more excitement, and eagerness,” he said Monday. “Yeah, there’s always a few questions in the back of your mind, but your confidence in your abilities and your preparation are what overrides everything.
“I think it’s a little bit of that fear and nervousness that motivate you and make you play up to your potential. You can’t have so much that it paralyzes you, but you have to have just a little. I’m expecting myself to be up to the challenge.”
Luongo has done his best to inject a light-heartedness into the goaltending situation, easing the pressure on Schneider as much as can be done by cracking wise on Twitter.
When the rumours of his trade to Toronto gained momentum in the fall, he tweeted: “Wow this is so crazy. You could barely fit JVR's name on the back of that jersey” — accompanied by a doctored photo showing a blue Toronto Luongo jersey hanging beside that of newly-acquired Leaf James van Riemsdyk.
When the New York Jets benched starting quarterback Mark Sanchez and passed over backup Tim Tebow to play third-stringer Greg McElroy late in the NFL season, @Strombone1 tweeted “So basically the Jets are starting Lack over Schneider after benching Luongo ... Am I doing this right?”
Near the end of December: “#2012regrets: my ‘I heart Gary’ tattoo on my inner thigh.”
In between tweeting pictures of his toes while getting a pedicure: “I'm thinking if lockout goes any longer breast augmentation is the next logical step for me!”
While braving the lineups upon taking his kids to Disney World: “I've witnessed more meltdowns already today than I've had in my entire NHL career.”
Then followed with: “For all 3 people wondering, that's a s--tload of meltdowns!”
When Colin Kaepernick, who took over a while back as San Francisco’s starting QB ahead of veteran Alex Smith, was brilliant in a playoff win over Green Bay on Saturday: “Kaepernick looking fantastic, proving you could never go wrong in going with the youngster over the old vet.”
But if the purpose of some of Luongo’s Twitter content was to open up a rarely glimpsed side of his personality, the larger part was to take the heat out of the goaltending decision in Vancouver, and smooth hard feelings.
It may not have totally eased the undercurrent of worry in Vancouver about the transition, and don’t think it also hasn’t occurred to the braintrust of the Canucks that in trading Luongo, whenever it might happen, they are taking a leap of faith that — from a distance, at least — looks more than a little risky.
But the least nervous person in the house appears to be Schneider himself.
He said he doesn’t know any way to prove he’s an everyday starting goaltending than to play every day. He sees no reason he can’t play both ends of this weekend’s back-to-back test.
And yes, he has seen @Strombone1’s Twitter posts, and appreciates them.
“I’m not on it all the time, but that’s the Roberto we know, that’s the guy we know in the room,” he said.
“For whatever reason it’s been hot and cold with the public, with the media here, but he’s a great guy, and he’s got a great sense of humour, which people are finding out just now, I guess.
“But I’m glad the opinion of him is so high right now, because it’s something he’s deserved, with the way he’s played and carried himself in this city.”
On Twitter: Twitter.com/rcamcole
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