SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) — There is little argument that goaltending is most important position on a hockey team.
Roberto Luongo showed up for Florida Panthers training camp on Thursday sporting a thick beard, a stark contrast from the goaltender’s usual look.
“Too lazy to shave,” Luongo quipped.
A more likely reason is that he was too busy rehabbing.
The Panthers have already gotten their first win of the season.
Luongo, who was expected to need up to six months to recover from a May surgery to repair a tear in one of his hips, is ahead of the original schedule and cleared to be on the ice when the reigning Atlantic Division champions hold their first practice of camp on Friday.
“Good to go,” Luongo said. “A lot of hard work over the summer, but I’m really happy with the way things progressed. Going into it I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go, but I’m excited to be here, first day of training camp and with a clean bill of health.”
Luongo was told that he would need to use crutches for a month after the procedure, unable to put weight on the hip or even drive.
That lasted about two weeks.
“I’m ahead of my schedule,” Luongo said.
That beard of his has more than a few flecks of gray in it, which explains the urgency Luongo has at this point in his career.
At 37, his window for winning a Stanley Cup obviously isn’t as wide-open as it once was. So he rehabbed for 3-4 hours a day, wearing down the floor of his pool by doing so much running in there during his rehab.
There wasn’t even time for a vacation, other than a week to go see family.
“Wasn’t much rest this summer,” said Luongo, who has been doing some on-ice work for about six weeks.
Luongo is going into his 17th NHL season, yet still coming off a year that was one of his best.
He saved 92.2 percent of the shots he faced, the third-highest clip of his long career. Luongo finished with a 2.35 goals-against-average, posted four shutouts and was one of five goalies who earned votes in the NHL MVP balloting.
Most notably, after his first seven seasons with Florida ended with the Panthers missing the playoffs, Luongo helped get them back to the postseason. The Panthers, who weren’t sure if Luongo would be ready for opening night, added James Reimer over the summer and the sense is that Reimer may get a few more starts than Florida backups have gotten in the past.
“You’ve got to think of the big picture,” Luongo said. “As much as I’d love to play 70 games still, I don’t think that’s wise.”
NOTES: Looking slimmer than he did at the end of last season, Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr arrived Thursday eating a glazed donut. “It’s all about diet,” the notoriously hard-working Jagr said. … The Panthers start training camp Friday without head coach Gerard Gallant, who’s still working as an assistant for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey. He’s not expected back with Florida for at least another week. … There’s two players on tryout deals in camp, RW Justin Fontaine and D Adam Pardy. “This team is on the way up, and to come in here and try to be a part of it is definitely an excitement,” Pardy said. … There’s 51 players on the camp roster, a list that doesn’t include World Cup players Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen.
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