Early in his career, Dallas Stars
goalie Marty Turco
was considered something of a late bloomer.
Unlike the majority of promising Canadian kids, after being selected by the Stars in the fifth round (124th overall) of the 1994 Entry Draft, Turco decided not to play major junior hockey. Instead, the Ontario native spent four seasons at Michigan, where he would capture two National Championships (1996, ‘98) and establish an NCAA record with 127 career victories.
”I wasn’t drafted by any teams out of the Ontario Hockey League, because, apparently, I wasn’t good enough and considered a late bloomer,’’ Turco said. “So staying in college for four years really wasn’t an option since it was my only option. Looking back, I’m glad it all went down like that because, after following the top guys who were drafted into the OHL, I realized I could not have played on that level. In fact, I couldn’t even have played on that level when I was 21- or 22-years-old, so gaining experience, having the comforting surroundings of college and the background of an education were keys at that stage in my life.
”I took that nothing-for-granted type of attitude that I still carry with me today,’’ he continued. “I’m grateful that I have a chance to suit up every night, so, despite the fact my path to the NHL wasn’t quite laid out for me, I found my way.’’
Has he ever!
Turco, a three-time NHL All-Star for the Western Conference, became the franchise’s all-time wins leader with his 161st triumph on Jan. 20, 2007, at Minnesota. He’s currently three shy of 200 victories for his career and entered the 2007-08 season ranked 13th all-time with 30 career shutouts. Even though Dallas lost a seven-game series to Vancouver in last year’s Western Conference quarterfinal round, Turco was remarkable, posting a 1.30 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and three shutouts. The gaudy numbers, however, meant nothing to Turco.
”I play to win, and losing, however it happens, is never something I look forward to,’’ Turco said. “I viewed last year’s loss to Vancouver as the third straight first-round loss for us. It made for a long summer.’’
Turco and the Stars are determined to make amends this season. Behind their veteran keeper, who is in his seventh season, the Stars swept a three-game tour of Western Canada last week. He stopped 92 of 97 shots in victories at Vancouver, 4-3, Edmonton, 4-1, and Calgary, 2-1. On Monday, Turco was named the League’s “Second Star” for the week ending Feb. 3. Dallas (31-20-5, 67 points) leads the Pacific Division and ranks third in the League behind only the Detroit Red Wings (84 points) and Ottawa Senators (68).
In 40 appearances this winter, Turco has posted a 22-11-4 record, 2.35 GAA, .910 save percentage and one shutout and is on pace to record his fifth consecutive 30-win season. The only goaltender with a longer active streak is New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who entered 2007-08 with 11 consecutive 30-win campaigns. Brodeur needs just three more victories to hit that number again.
”Reaching 30 wins is something I haven’t really thought about, but it just proves the consistency and the belief in winning this organization has,’’ Turco said. “I always push myself more than anything and I suppose it’s an expectation I always have on myself (reaching 30 wins).’’
”I play to win, and losing, however it happens, is never something I look forward to." - Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco
Turco, who spent two years in Dallas gaining experience as the backup to Ed Belfour before earning the starting role in 2002-03 when Belfour signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, said the game has changed in some ways.
”Coaches are a lot more defensive-minded today, so the game slows down, at times, and becomes easier and more black and white,’’ Turco admitted. “But, other times, when you have more high-quality chances, those skilled guys are coming to the net untouched and a lot more back-door play is going on. This usually gives players chances to hold on to the puck and find the open man in front for a quick shot. You certainly have to be on your toes for anything, but, overall, I think the game has changed for the better.’’
In addition to his inspiring play, Turco has also touched the hearts of thousands of youngsters off the ice as the leading spokesperson for the Stars’ “Stick With Reading” program.
”I inherited the program from its original founder (Brian Skrudland) and, later, with the help of my wife (Kelly), took over,’’ Turco said. “My wife and I went to school to be educators and we understand the importance of education, not just on a secondary or university level, but from the beginning at the grass roots level. We started our household early and we wanted to give back and we love this program. We have about 40,000 kids in the program and, to be honest, if I only encouraged one child to read each year that would make me happy. But we do this on a wider scale and hold dynamite pep rallies that encourage reading. The program has really touched my heart and we’ve had such positive reinforcement from the League and the community. We’ll certainly continue it for as long as we can.’’
It’s safe to assume Turco is no longer a late bloomer, but a budding role model.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.