INNSBRUCK, Austria – Roberto Luongo has always answered the call when Team Canada came asking.
And he’ll do it again Tuesday when Canada plays Slovenia at the World Hockey Championship.
Head Coach Marc Habscheid announced Monday that Luongo will start in net and Martin Brodeur will be his back-up.
It was the opposite configuration when Canada beat Latvia 6-4 in the tournament opener and the Canadian coaching staff wanted to get Luongo into a game before the next round of the 16-team world tournament.
Habscheid said the coaching staff, which includes Tom Renney and Craig MacTavish, reached the decision after talking to both Luongo and Brodeur.
“It is a group decision,” Habscheid said after Monday’s practice.
Luongo was in net for the gold medal games when Canada won back-to-back titles in 20 and he’ll gladly play the role of back-up in helping Canada go for a third straight world title.
“Coming in, I knew Marty was going to be the guy so I set myself like in the World Cup scenario that I would probably be backing up,” said Luongo. “Whenever I get a chance to play, I will make the best out of it. You don’t know what can happen. Injuries happen and as long as I am ready to go, that will be my job from here on out.”
Luongo was brilliant in net a 2-1 exhibition wins over the Czech Republic last week. Prior to that, his last game of note came during the World Cup of Hockey last September. Brodeur suffered an injury before the semifinal against the Czech Republic and Luongo got the win over the Czechs.
The Slovenes will definitely be over-matched and Luongo’s biggest challenge might be to stay focused throughout the game.
“It is a good challenge mentally and you do not want to have lapses against a team like that,” he said.
The Slovenes watched Canada's practice on Monday and there’s no doubt some of the players will just like sharing the same ice as the NHL stars.
"We're a small country, we have only three pro teams," said David Rodman, who played three seasons ago for Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league. "It's a surprise to see us here with these guys.
"We have no players in the NHL, only one in Germany. Our league is not that big and not that strong. We're a bit slow against these guys."
Luongo is definitely one of the top goalies in Canada and he is in line to be the country’s undisputed king of the crease when Brodeur’s international career is over. But Luongo said that’s not the motivating factor to don a Canadian jersey each and every time he’s asked.
“Obviously I would like to have the job sometime in the future, no doubt about it, but you can’t predict the future. Every moment I have, I just try to take advantage of it, whether it is playing goal or backing up, whatever it is. And if you make the most out of it, you will get that job in the future.”
Luongo clearly enjoys the world tournament, where the top 16 hockey countries are vying to leave Austria as World No. 1.
“What is there not to like about it?” he said. “Usually it is during playoff times and I would rather be part of the playoffs but when you do not have a chance to be part of the playoffs and you have a chance to come here, you really can’t say no.”
And he’s never said no to Canada.