SUNRISE, Fla. — The first tweet, like many of those that followed, explored the ins and outs of the human digestive system. Roberto Luongo had just registered his account earlier that September day, choosing an anonymous handle (@Strombone1) for an anonymous pursuit. He was a public figure in Vancouver, a Vezina Trophy finalist with the Western Conference-champion Canucks. He spoke a certain way around cameras, handled his business in business-like fashion, but wanted an outlet for a looser side few knew existed. So, recalling an earlier meal of turkey sausage, Luongo tapped away about breakfast meat, hockey practice and the uncomfortableness of swishing the two together.
“What’s funny about that, people are almost tired of hearing that one,” Luongo said. “Every time I make a toilet joke, people are like, Ah, c’mon man.
“But that’s my go-to. Always got to go back to the well.”
Over four years, 1,516 tweets and 570,000-plus followers later, the account expanded far beyond his initially modest intentions and that very first plunge. Now the NHL’s oldest starting goaltender and almost certainly its funniest, Luongo has formed fantasy football leagues with friends met online. He has live-tweeted NHL drafts and All-Star Games, spearheaded a campaign to re-grow Jaromir Jagr’s famous mullet and Photoshopped his face onto Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up backside, slipping the blade of a goalie’s stick between the cheeks. He has sought solace through dark comedy, 140-character serials written during his most difficult times. Becoming a backup. Allowing goals. Getting traded. Nothing was sacred, nothing impossible to spin with self-deprecating threads.
“I think for him, it was like therapy in his own right,” said Willie Mitchell, a former teammate in Vancouver and a current one with the Florida Panthers. “It’s only me making an assumption, but it was like Alright, this is a tense situation, it’s all the time, I’m dealing with the pressures and the media in a hockey hotbed market like Vancouver and Canada. And how do you suppress that? Here in Florida, it’s a few guys. Up there, you’ve got 40, 50 guys in the room asking the same questions, and when you’re the star goalie and star player, how [do] you suppress all that, put that to the wayside, so I can just focus on what I want to do, which is be a goaltender and play fantasy football and sit on the couch?”
A loud laugh comes here from Mitchell, but the description is reasonably accurate. Aside from family and hockey, time-consuming priorities by themselves with a wife and two children at home and reasonable playoff aspirations for the Panthers this season, Luongo currently manages teams in 11 different fantasy leagues and dabbles in the daily fantasy world too. He owns a sarcastic sense of humor and enjoys ending his blasts with long strings of ellipses, letting his thoughts—still anonymous, unverified by Twitter and watched over by a goaltender’s silhouette with a question mark on his chest—hang in the air.
He holds little desire to try improv or stand-up, but when the mood strikes, Strombone1 is there, the cursor blinking. For a recent home game, the Panthers handed fans pop-up posters of Luongo. The caption beside his picture called him “one of the game’s brightest personalities.”
It just took time for that to emerge.
“That’s the thing, getting older in this league, it’s something I’ve always had trouble dealing with as far as criticism or things like that, and I find that not taking that stuff seriously is what helped me get over it and not let it affect me bringing it to the rink and letting it affect my game,” Luongo said.
“It’s unfortunate that I took so much time to realize how to handle these situations and it’s something I could’ve used earlier in my career. I’m the same guy I was before Twitter, but people didn’t see it. Now that I’m able to express myself that way and have an open relationship, in a way, with the fans, it’s easier for everybody.”
Now into his second full season on this reunion tour with the Panthers, inside a locker room blending tenured veterans (Luongo, Mitchell, Jagr) with an up-and-coming core (Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov), Luongo has adjusted well to this new stage of his career. In 2014–15, Luongo started 61 games, posted a 2.35 goals against average and .921 save percentage and helped anchor the NHL’s biggest year-to-year turnaround. Mitchell believes the best goaltending he ever witnessed was during Luongo’s peak years in Vancouver. Luongo would disagree; between new recovery methods, altered techniques and the general wisdom of aging in this league, he said he’s now “twice the goalie than I was. It feels more solid.”
“Just to have him in the net, it’s a big boost of confidence,” Jagr said. “You shouldn’t make any mistakes, but when you do, it’s not like Holy s---, they’re going to score. He’s still there. That’s what you need if you want to have a winning hockey club.”
Over time, the secrecy behind Strombone1 disappeared. Tweets from teammates tagging him served as obvious clues, but everything from his online poker handle to “Jersey Shore” references helped fans connect the dots.
Soon, the gap between real life and cyberspace shrank.
There was Luongo, cracking jokes about battling with fellow goalie Cory Schneider for the starting job in Vancouver and filming a sketch for TSN that further made light of the situation, which Schneider said was how they coped together behind the scenes anyway.
There he was, making a Mariah Carey reference above a headline that called him a diva. He confirmed his trade from Vancouver to Florida with the emoji of a palm tree, then reflected on the emotions of deadline day with more icons this March. He invited his followers into a public survivor football pool. He taped cardboard to his goalie’s glove after a puck hopped over it during a game. Caption: “Problem solved……..”
“I’m glad he got out there and was able to relieve some of that pressure and tension on himself,” Schneider said. “He’s such an elite goalie and a great person that sometimes … I mean, I would take it personally when people would get on him or media would attack him or fans would be upset with him. I think he’s definitely grown into it. It only works because he’s as good as he is.”
Said Panthers GM Dale Tallon: “He’s got a very creative mind, a very furtive mind. I’ve really enjoyed being around him. I didn’t know what to expect really. I’d seen some of the stuff he’d done. With the stick and the Kardashian picture … he’s not afraid to go out there, you know? I like that. I like our players to have the freedom to be themselves.”
Still, the tweets are sparse in volume, and Luongo runs the account with a certain code. He rarely retweets others and almost never issues public replies, conscious of not flooding timelines and keeping certain interactions private. He does, however, direct message those who might tag him with a strong comeback to show appreciation for the zinger, because the man knows when he got burned.
“I don’t really like to still go into details about it or talk about it a lot in the media and stuff like that, because I wanted to somewhat keep it still—what’s the word I’m looking for—not cachet, but a little bit on the gray side of things,” Luongo said. “I don’t want it to be, Oh that’s Roberto Luongo and these are his thoughts. Some people still don’t believe it’s me. Some people still think somebody writes my tweets for me or something like that. Some people still have that doubt in their mind, and in a way that’s good. That’s what I want.”