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Instant Replay: The Luongo you don’t know
The name is Luongo and the team is the Canucks.
So we’re talking hockey, right?
Well, yes, except the Luongo this story is about is not Roberto. The name is Lorenzo (Larry) Luongo.
It was Larry – not Roberto – who was the first Canucks Luongo when he began a 15-year career with the Vancouver club in 1972, shortly after captain Orland Kurtenbach and the boys began playing in the National Hockey League in 1970.
It’s true that this Luongo never wore goaltender’s pads, slipped on a goalie mask or laced on skates for the Canucks. No, he was the one who expertly repaired those pads and masks and sharpened all the skates. He was, as you can see, the team’s equipment manager.
And Larry even invented the goalie neck guard. Ahh, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.
Lorenzo Luongo was born in the south of Italy and arrived in the Vancouver area at 19. A shoemaker with Ralph’s Shoe Repair at Brentwood Mall for a few years, he ventured out on his own with Larry’s Shoe Repair in Westview Shopping Centre in 1968.
“I love to do things with my hands,” he acknowledges as we chat the other day. “Being a shoemaker – creating and making shoes for people that have a problem with their feet – that was my trade. I made all kinds of shoes from scratch. Fancy shoes for bands, for dancers, for you name it, I did it. I was the first guy to make shoes with denim.”
So he made shoes for the likes of Vancouver’s Andre Boudrias, Dennis Vervegaert, Don Lever and Bobby Lalonde (to say nothing of Bobby Orr and other NHLers as far east as Montreal, New York and Boston).
“They all used to come to me to get shoes made and they brought their equipment to me for repair.
“So Mr. Pat Dunn [who would be the Canucks’ trainer for 15 years] came to me and he said, ‘Larry, why don’t you work with us?’ I knew the old Griffiths family [Frank owned the Canucks from 1974-94]. They used to come to my shop and take me out for dinner. They wanted me to take care of the team. They convinced me to work for them. They would pay me and everything. They were very, very good.
“The Canucks got me a seat right in the press box. To me I was an ordinary guy. I didn’t need to be in the press box but they got me seated in the press box.
“But [at first] I didn’t want to travel because I had a young family and a business and my business was doing well.”
However, after three years working off and on with the Canucks without doing any travelling, he decided to go on the road as well.
“I was doing everything for them. I used to sharpen all their skates; do all the repair. I was buying equipment from Bauer, Cooper, Sherwood, every company. I used to get all the sticks made for the guys. I used to curve their sticks, file their sticks. I used to get their pads made for them. The whole thing.”
His first trip was in January 1976 to Detroit, Washington, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. North Van’s Ralph Bower of The Vancouver Sun, the only photographer who ever really travelled with the team, was on that trip as well, and so the two got to know each other and became friends.
“I used to go on the road and help with our head trainer,” Luongo adds. “I was an assistant to Pat Dunn with injuries and stuff like that. I had my wife to run the store and I had my staff. I used to have good people, good shoemakers working for me. I would say, ‘I’m away for five days’ or ‘I’m away for three days.’ That’s how we did it. We did very well. We were good tradespeople, good shoemakers. It’s too bad that it’s a dying art.
“In the old days, I used to sharpen skates for Karen Magnussen and every pro you could think of. When she was in Boston, she used to fly her skates to Vancouver and her mom, Gloria, and her dad would being them to me to fix them up and sharpen them and send them to her.”
How about some Canuck road stories? “Well,” he says, “Dressing rooms, hotels and airports. That’s what we did. It was fun. We spent a lot of time together in every place. Detroit was a very scary city but other than that we enjoyed every city we went to.”
And, oh yes, the neck guard.
“I remember we were playing in Vancouver and somebody shot the puck and [goalie] Gary Smith got hurt on his neck. I went into the dressing room right away and wrapped up a piece of foam with a piece of towel and made a neck guard for him. And guess what happened? The equipment companies patented it right away. I should have done it and made a million dollars. Now every goalie wears a neck guard. But I was the first guy to create a neck guard for the NHL.”
Luongo’s world changed dramatically on the evening of Dec. 31, 1985, when several businesses in the Westview mall went up in flames, including Larry’s Shoe Repair and Larry’s Sports.
“The Chinese restaurant next door to us caught on fire. The whole [east end of the] complex there burned down. Davis Insurance was above us. When the store burned down, I lost everything. We had all kinds of jerseys and pictures. I had jerseys from Bobby Orr and every guy you could think of. But with the fire, I lost them all. It’s too bad.
“I moved Larry’s Sports to 2029 Lonsdale, just across from London Drugs and opened in 1986 in May.”
So the shop has been there 25 years now and his boys, Frank and Danny, run the place. Larry drops in only occasionally. You see, for the past 16 years, he and business partner, Maxine Burrows, have been running a wine and spirits importing company out of an office on West 15th, just off Marine Drive.
It’s called Burrows, Luongo and Associates. With the NHL playoffs beginning and Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo and the rest of the team the toast of the town, you can’t get more Canuckish than that, can you?
This is episode 417 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.