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Turco: 'I want to continue to forge my existence in this organization'

The former Stars netminder delves into his legendary playing career and current front-office role with the team

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

Over time, one of the things you learn about former Dallas Stars netminder Marty Turco, the last bona fide homegrown goaltending ace the team has produced, is that you'd better have fresh batteries in your tape recorder.

Not only was Turco one of the best goaltenders in franchise history (and remains the NCAA all-time wins leader during his stellar career at the University of Michigan) he's one of the game's great raconteurs.

When we catch up with Turco, he's just back from a holiday visit to his summer place in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and a visit to the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational hockey tournament.

Scott Burnside: So, did you play in the Great Lakes Invitational when you were at Michigan? Was it a thing when you were there?

Marty Turco: It's been a thing for a long time. College hockey at 'The Joe' (Joe Louis Arena), now College Hockey at Little Caesars. It's a huge thing. And unfortunately, when I got there, we had won six in a row, and then the big question mark every year was: Which senior class is going to screw it up? And then, we won freshman year and the antics continued, and then we won sophomore year, and then we won junior year -- and then it comes down to our senior year. We won nine in a row, looking to make a magic 10, and we lost. We didn't win anything that year. We didn't win the GLI, we didn't win the regular season; didn't win our playoffs but we did win the national championship. So that's what counts.

SB: You'd already been drafted by Dallas at that point (selected 124th overall in 1994). Were you already thinking about what lay ahead for you?

MT: Honestly, I had no clue, man. And I always have been -- and still am -- the guy that's, alright, what's my tomorrow like? What's my next month, and what's the season look like? And I didn't ever look too much beyond that. I was having a blast at Michigan -- we were winning, I was playing, and so, yeah, I got drafted before I went to college. I was 18. I was an August birthday -- turned 19 that summer -- and so, all in Junior B, I got drafted and got a scholarship to Michigan in one year, so it was crazy. I was watching the Stars because I was drafted by them, and we had Andy (Moog) and (Darcy) Wakaluk, and you had Eddie (Belfour) and Roman Turek and Manny Fernandez as a goalie. They were just loaded. Everyone's like, 'Did you leave school early?' I was like, 'Hell no.'

Video: Marty Turco's career as a Dallas Star

SB: Do you remember when you got drafted? You weren't physically at the draft were you?

MT: Oh, my god. Hilarious story. So (then-director of amateur scouting) Tim Bernhardt came and watched me in Cambridge (where he was playing Junior B hockey), and he's the only NHL scout that I ever actually talked to. I heard Rick Walmsley was at a game or two -- he was scouting for the Leafs, or working for the Leafs. But playing Junior B, trying to get a scholarship, no less, the last thing on my mind really was the NHL. I was the 21st-rated goalie. I think I might have been the 12th North American-rated goalie. So Tim Bernhardt came to me and my dad in my last game I ever played in Cambridge. My dad was there because we were going home the next day. Actually, Kenny Mann was our general manager. Kenny Mann's a great coach and GM in those ranks, and it's actually Todd Harvey's uncle. So he came and got me, 'Hey, Marty, some scout wants to see you out there. Your dad's already talking to him, so you might want to hurry up.' So I went out there and Tim was like, 'Hey, I've watched you a few games; really enjoy the way you play and you just caught my eye, and love watching you win games. But I don't know anything about you. Think when you get done here at the rink, you and your dad can come and get a bite to eat and just talk for a little bit?' And I looked at him and I looked at my dad, I'm like, 'Well, Tim, Mr. Bernhardt, as you know, it's my last game. I'm going to Michigan next year. My dad's here because we're driving back in the morning and I'm going to finish some high-school stuff and graduate and all that, and I'll never see these guys again the rest of my life, and we're having a team party. So if you don't mind, I'm going to go to the team party.' And so my dad was like -- he's kind of like looking at me, too -- and he was like, 'What the (heck)?' afterwards. 'What are you doing?' And I said, 'I don't know. I was just being honest.' So at the end, I don't know if that hurt me. But they drafted me, so I don't think it hurt me. I think it helped. This guy's like, 'Oh, he's a team player.' Tim and I, years after that, we laughed about it.

And then there was the actual draft in the summer of 1994.

MT: So, fast-forward to June that year. I went to a semiformal -- it was a high school event -- and went out. I wasn't drinking age yet, but we went out. I woke up hungover in a water bed, no less. My mom comes in the room, gives me a cordless phone -- which was a novelty back then -- and she's like, 'Someone's on the phone for you.' And I think it was Les (Jackson) and Craig Button and/or Tim. They're like, 'Hey.' And I've really just woke up and not feeling great, and they're like, 'Hey, it's Les, and we're at the draft table. Thought we'd call and say congratulations.' I'm just sitting there rubbing my eyes and my mom's still standing over me, and I'm surfing on my water bed now. I hang up, I give her the phone. And she's like, 'Well, who was it?' I said, 'I'm not even sure, but I think I got drafted.'

SB: Do you remember the first time you came to Dallas, then, after your great career at Michigan?

MT: Oh, dude, this is like a full chapter in my book. But I'll spill all the beans for you. So I finish school and I hadn't signed yet. I was MVP of the Final Four and feel decent about my chances. I literally was at that game that Eddie (Belfour hit Marty Lapointe in the groin in the 1998 Western Conference final against Detroit). I had the GMs' seats. I'm right behind the bench with my girlfriend, now wife, watching the game. I'm like, 'Hey, honey, I'm going to training camp with these guys next year.' She's like, 'Yeah, yeah, whatever dude.' So that summer was a rookie camp. There were no rules back then, and the CBA was pretty ambiguous. So I'm going down there for rookie camp in July, and my agent (Kurt Overhardt) is like, 'Dude, you can't go. You are not signed to a contract.' I'm like, 'Come on, Kurt. I'm going, dude. I don't want to start my career off not going because I'm not signed. I've got to go down there, man. I've got to be part of the mix.' He's like, 'No, dude, you can't.' I'm like, 'I'm going, I've got to go, so you figure it out.' He said, 'If you go and we're not signed, you just can't play.' I said, 'You know what, that's fine by me. I've got to go be around the boys.' So I go down and it's really informal. I end up playing forward in my first Dallas Stars rookie camp. I'm clapping down the wing. I'm clapping my stick, waiting for a sauce pass from the defenseman to go down and blow it on goal on Manny Fernandez, or whoever was in goal. I remember (Brenden) Morrow looks at me -- and there's no social media, no cell phones -- and he says, 'I swear, I thought you were a goalie.' I said, 'Can't you tell by my stride and my skates, dude? I am a goalie.'

And then there was Turco's first training camp.

MT: The first time I ever put on a Dallas Stars jersey (as a goalie), it was exhibition season. Where do you think it was? We've got the Nashville Predators in Little Rock, Arkansas. We go to this cow barn. The ice is about half-an-inch thick. Guys are trying to chop the ice so they'll cancel the game. It was 102 degrees out. We're sweating, waiting to go in the arena. I'm supposed to play the second half of the game, but Roman Turek plays great, so Hitch (head coach Ken Hitchcock) leaves him in there to finish the game. I'm sitting in the crowd, no less, because there's no seats. They're trying to offer me beer the whole game. I keep saying no. Finally, third period, I'm like, 'Okay, I'm officially not playing, give me that beer.' I didn't have it. But I should have.

And then there was Turco's first-ever regular-season game.

MT: I wake up that morning in Kalamazoo (where the Stars' International Hockey League affiliate was based). I go to the pre-game skate (where) we're playing. I get a call after practice, 'Hey, Roman Turek tweaked his knee. We need you tonight.' Manny Fernandez was in Houston for that very reason -- to play for a good team and be close to Dallas, because they've got a couple of older goalies. They couldn't find him. So they call me up. I've got to go from Kalamazoo to O'Hare, O'Hare to Dallas. This is now 12:30, I'm just leaving the rink. I've got nothing. I've got no shoes, my equipment's wet. I land at DFW at 6:45 -- the game's at 7:30. Somehow, I make puck drop at Reunion, and guess what game it is? It's the game where (Derian) Hatcher breaks (Jeremy) Roenick's jaw. My first-time-ever game on an NHL bench during the regular season with the uniform on and I get an epic one.

I almost got in a fight after the game with Keith Tkachuk. He wanted to fight during the game. I'm like, 'Where am I, man?' Sid (Darryl Sydor) was blowing blood all over the glass as I was trying to open up the door, and then Tkachuk actually tried to hit him with his stick. I don't know what he was doing. He missed. He did it again, and he ends up hitting Dave Surprenant, our trainer, over the head with one of those old, old wood sticks. The thing weighed 10 pounds. He dropped him like a sack of potatoes. Right at my feet, I'm like picking this guy up. It's like an ACME cartoon going on in front of me. I was pissed. The guy literally knocked my trainer out cold. He (Tkachuk) is like, 'Meet me after the game.' I'm like, 'Yeah, bring your Russian goalie buddy' -- who's (Nikolai) Khabibulin and I'm trying to look at Khabibulin trying to say, 'I love you, man. Love the way you play.' And I was with (Brad) Lukowich after the game, and he's talking to Shane Doan because they're Kamloops Blazers guys. and I'm just standing there because Lukowich is my ride and here comes big, old Keith Tkachuk. He was the captain and he had to answer all the questions after Roenick's jaw got broken, so he was pissed and I'm just standing there and I've got nothing to lose, so I'm like, 'Hey, Keith, where you been? I've been waiting for you.' Totally joking. I've never seen a guy's face go so (frigging) red so fast in my life. He just put his head down and left. And Lukowich just looks at me and goes, 'Uh, what was that?' I thought we were getting in a brawl.

Video: Turco outduels Luongo

As for actual game action, that didn't happen until the 2000-01 season after Turco had been a black ace for the Stanley Cup run in 1999, and the run to the Final the following year.

MT: I've had these short summers, and for the past eight years, I've played in the last possible game, or at least been in the building for the last possible game of every league that I've been at. I've been at the Final Four; Cambridge, I played in the Southern Cup final; went on two Stanley Cup runs. Life's good, but my summers are short, and so, finally, not until the next year (2000), they're out of goalies. Roman got traded, Manny got picked up in expansion (and) they're like, 'Hey, Turco, you're left. You're backing up Eddie.' So I didn't play a game until I was 25 years old. I remember when I put money on the board in Carolina, like a lot of money, and they were like, 'Why are you putting that much money up, dude? And I'm like, 'It's my first game. I remember (Richard) Matvichuk going, 'Nah, nah, nah. You've played before, dude.' I'm like, 'No, I've never played before. I think I would know. I've never played in the NHL. This is my first game.' And then, my first game, I get two penalties in the first period of my first NHL game -- both for throwing the puck over the glass. Both we go down 5-on-3. The same guy catches the same puck, and then Hitch sends Matty over to talk to me after I did it the second time. He doesn't even get a word out we just start laughing. What are you going to do?

SB: But did you win?

MT: Hell no, man. We lost 5-2. I gave Ronnie Francis three points. One on a rebound off my can. I got a Sault Ste. Marie (guy) -- one of my idols growing up -- I got him three points. I was the happiest guy. I just played a game in the NHL against Ron Francis, gave him three points and I couldn't be any happier.

SB: What was your relationship like with Ed Belfour? Is it different now that you've both made your homes in the Dallas area?

MT: I was around a bunch. I mean, he was the guy. He was the best goalie in the world. I watched him mow down Patrick Roy twice. Stood on his head against Hasek; in the Final against Brodeur; Grant Fuhr in the second round. It was awesome for me to just watch it all go down -- to be in that environment. Ever since then, we've had a good rapport. We talk and get along now. Dayn, his son, was -- I don't think he was in high school yet then -- and dad was always busy, so him and I used to hang out and talk. He was a young goalie, too. It's all good by me, man. I don't have any ill will ever. I just got to watch him every day. So I learned a lot, no matter what. And I would have been a complete fool not to watch this guy and his work ethic. He was a gamer. That guy showed up and played and won and put everything he had into it; and his team knew he was going to show up come game time pretty much every night. And the confidence that team had from him being the goalie, man, it was a really cool experience for me just to watch and experience it all.

SB: You've always had a strong connection to Sault Ste. Marie. When you look back, does it surprise you that Dallas became your home, or second home, or 1A home, or however you want to put it?

MT: Surprisingly, yes. I didn't have goals when I was a kid. I didn't dream of playing in the NHL, I can promise you that. I always wanted to play for Team Canada. I still thank Norm Green every time I see him for moving the team to Dallas. I could be living in Minnesota right now. I grew up in that nonsense. It was pretty early in my career, I thought, if I play here a long time, this is home. I mean, I loved it. To do the calculation, in the last 17 years -- all but two I've been here -- and so my kids were born here. I just always, always loved it. And there was an opportunity for me to continue playing, but should I drag my kids around one more city, one more year -- might turn into two? I mean, I looked forward to retiring. And I never started a business, I never took any classes for post-career stuff because I needed, personally, to invest 100 percent of my time and effort into my job for Mr. Hicks and for Doug Armstrong. I took that personally. But I always knew, too, hockey's going to end and I can't wait to see what's next. Just a crazy, other challenge that I'm going to have to go through and endure. But I always knew, I always thought it's going to be in Dallas, Texas. So it's been a wild ride and I could not be any happier to be have three Texans living under my roof, and that my wife and I get to call this home. And to me, this is home. Sault Ste. Marie is my hometown, but my home's Dallas, Texas and I plan on growing old here.

SB: Has working for the team and being involved in the organization as a non-player been different than you thought? (Turco is the director of corporate development with the Stars).

MT: It's been super eye-opening and informative and educationally. I didn't know what I was going to do. I enjoy what I'm doing now, learning the business from (Stars president) Jim Lites and (Stars executive vice president and chief revenue officer) Brad Alberts, immensely. Every day's different, and I've got so much to learn and, to me, that's been great. I'm in the process of shedding, 'I'm an old player.' Now, I'm part of the Dallas Stars organization and I'm in the front office, or on the business side, and things are different. I can't be a player anymore. And that was probably the one of the big changes for me was you can't think like an ex-player, you can't expect things being an ex-player you've got to do things properly. It's been really intriguing -- super challenging. I'm hoping to take on some more responsibilities. I've been offered jobs. Now, I'm not saying I'd be any good at them, but they offered them -- just regular jobs -- which is so humbling to me. But what I'm getting out of this right now is that the Dallas Stars, most of our business is here in north Texas, so I don't travel. I'm not scouting, I'm not coaching. You know, the hockey-ops side is great. But if you want to grow in that job, you've got to go to the next team and you've got to go to the next city, and you've got to be prepared to move again. Well, I just really like it here that much that I want to continue to forge my existence in this organization -- all the while being able to call this home for a long time.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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