Pierre Turgeon is a class act. Let me rephrase. Pierre Turgeon is classy - there's nothing about him that's an act. He's as genuine as can be - straightforward, humble, kind, down to earth - with plenty of reasons to be otherwise. Here are just a few: Drafted number one overall in 1987, Turgeon played over 19 years and almost 1300 games the NHL. He averaged over a point per game over his entire career, including scoring over 500 goals. He played in five All-Star games, won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1993 as a New York Islander, and also played for the Sabres, Blues, Stars, Avalanche, and captained the Montreal Canadiens in '95 - '96. But again, you'd never sense any of this if you just met him on the street.
Turgeon came to the Islanders in 1991, the key to a blockbuster trade that sent Islander great Pat LaFontaine to the Sabres. Turgeon was an offensive powerhouse from the start - leading the Islanders in scoring from 1991 to 1993, and finishing '93 with a career-high 132 points (58G, 74A). He was also a key cog in the Isles incredible '93 playoff run, scoring the series-clinching goal against the Caps in overtime of game six. Turgeon was hit from behind, late, while celebrating that goal and suffered a separated shoulder which kept him out during the Islanders upset of Mario Lemieux's vaunted Penguins. He returned to face the Montreal Canadiens in the conference final, but at less than 100 percent. The Islanders lost that series to the eventual cup-winning Canadiens in no small part because Turgeon was not himself.
Sad and frustrating as it was, that story is a window into what a genuinely good guy Pierre is.
The lateness of the hit by Dale Hunter has never been argued. (The league certainly agreed, as they banned Hunter for 21 games - the longest suspension in NHL history at the time.) So basically, after devoting most of his childhood adolescence and a good part of his adult years chasing the dream of winning a Stanley Cup, then getting closer than he'd ever been before, Turgeon's best chance was ended by a cheap shot. Still, the most negative thing Turgeon has to say about it, or Hunter, today is that it was "unfortunate."
"Of course there were a lot of emotions at the time," Turgeon said. "But the worst part was not being able to help my teammates."
It's really what he doesn't say here that speaks volumes.
Turgeon's heart can't be argued either, as he spoke about a memory from game seven versus Pittsburgh. Everyone knew he wasn't ready to play yet, but he asked Coach Al Arbour if he could dress and sit on the bench to support his teammates. Which is exactly where he was when Arbour actually called his number in overtime.
"I couldn't lift my arm," he said, "but when Al called me, I was going."
Fortunately, Ferraro to Volek took care of things before Turgeon had to climb over the boards.
Turgeon loved his time with the Islanders, and talked a lot about how much he enjoyed playing here, what a great group of guys it was, and especially what an amazing coach Al Arbour was.
"Arbour was the best coach I ever had - along with [Joel] Queneville, who coached me when I was younger. But Al was able to get in your mind and make you believe you could go through a brick wall. He was an incredible coach, incredible person, and the biggest reason we were able to do so well in '93."
Turgeon credits Arbour's ability to "make everyone feel like a part of the team, no matter how big or small your role was," and how well he was "able to adjust to each guy and figure out what each guy needed. He saw the game so well, and knew right away if you were going good, you were back out there right away. If not, he let you know what was missing, and if you brought it next time out there, he made sure to let you know he saw it." (Then he echoed something many of the dynasty greats have said, "He was like a dad to us.")
In fact, Arbour's influence on Turgeon continues to this day. He said Arbour taught him to "be in the moment and embrace what you see every day." Seems fairly Zen for the rough and tumble sport of hockey, but Turgeon explained it came out of a conversation about staying focused and staying positive. You might only get six or seven shifts in a period, and each shift might be only 45 seconds. Arbour told him, "Define your shift. If you make a mistake, don't keep it. Process it and move on. Think about the next shift." Turgeon says he still tries to do that, staying present for what life presents, choosing what to do with his time, and then giving everything he has to that moment.
In 2007, Turgeon played his last NHL game for the Avalanche. He and his family decided to stay in Colorado, and he immediately began coaching his kids. His girls were good enough to play against boys' teams locally while traveling to places like Minnesota and Chicago to play against other strong girls' teams. It was quite a commitment. One of his daughters, Valerie, who is dating Isles' prospect Oliver Wahlstrom, eventually played at Harvard, and his son, Dominic, was drafted by the Red Wings in 2014. Now 23, Dominic has an important year coming up with the Wings AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapid Griffins. Turgeon served as the offensive coordinator for the Kings a couple of years ago, and although he really liked it, he found himself missing too many of his kids' games and wanting more time with his wife and family. His oldest daughter, Alexandra, just got married this summer, and Turgeon is finally relaxing. He still loves attending alumni gatherings for any of his old teams, especially when there's a charity involved. If you should happen to run into him at one of these events and have a chance to meet him, don't pass it up. You won't meet a nicer guy.