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No Ordinary Joe

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

October 20, 2003

By J. Douglas Foster

Stars goaltender Marty Turco remembers the moment.

It was a rare occasion in Turco's career, one he hasn't seen often. But after allowing four goals during his rookie season against the New Jersey Devils at Reunion Arena, Turco was pulled from the game by coach Ken Hitchcock.

The next day, after practice, a young Turco faced more heat than he had the night before as every member of the local media surrounded his stall wanting to know exactly what happened. Entering the locker room late after staying on the ice for extra work, then Stars center Joe Nieuwendyk had their answer.

Nieuwendyk walked right to the edge of the media scrum, leaned in around the cameras and interrupted Turco's grilling.

"What happened last night was no fault of Marty's," he said.

"That's just the kind of guy he is," Turco said of his former teammate. "He's more of a friend than a teammate. He probably meant more to me off the ice than anyone I've played with yet. He's just that kind of human being, and I don't think anyone who knows him would doubt that."

That's just the kind of teammate Joe Nieuwendyk was to the other members of the Dallas Stars. That's why they'll always remember the things he did for them personally and for the organization, and that's why Stars fans will always consider him a part of their team, even if he's no longer wearing the Stars logo on his chest.

Wednesday will be Nieuwendyk's first trip back to Dallas in a visiting sweater since being traded to New Jersey in March of 2002, now as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs along with former Stars goaltender Ed Belfour.

Belfour made his return, last season, in a 2-1 loss to Turco and the Stars. This trip is Nieuwendyk's "welcome home," and for obvious reasons.

This guy was, to this team, the consummate teammate.

"He would do anything for you," Stars captain Mike Modano said of Nieuwendyk. "He's the kind of friend you could really rely on, and he's one that will always be a good friend to a lot of us."

During the summer months, Stars fans got excited about the possibility of Nieuwendyk returning to Dallas permanently as rumors flew about the possibility of him re-signing with his former team.

His former teammates certainly would not have minded.

"He's the one who kind of helped me grow up in this league," Stars left wing Brenden Morrow said. "I came in with that wide-eyed look every young kid has, and he led the way for me. He was kind of like a father figure for a lot of the younger guys."

Stars head coach Dave Tippett knows how his current players feel about Nieuwendyk. He had a similar experience with several players during his days in Hartford, bonding very closely with several core members of the team.

Kevin Dineen is one who stood out the most. But after the two were separated, Tippett said, he was just like any other opponent while on the ice, no matter how close the friendship was.

He expects the same between his team and Nieuwendyk.

"He was a great guy and a great teammate," Tippett said. "But you don't look to say hello on the ice or he would run you over.

"I'm sure a lot of people in Dallas will be friends with Joe for a long time. It's a similar situation we had in Hartford where six or eight guys remained friends for many years."

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*Stars right wing Jere Lehtinen's eligibility status was changed to week-to-week late Monday night, and Tippett said he would be reevaluated next Monday.

*Former Star and Maple Leaf Kirk Muller will be honored Wednesday in a ceremonial faceoff before the game. Muller announced his retirement this past summer.

*For Turco, facing the Maple Leafs -- no matter who is in the other net -- is always a thrill. After all, while growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, nothing was more important than that Maple Leaf crest. "I grew up watching that team on TV, Saturday nights on Hockey Night in Canada," he said. "Seeing those uniforms on the ice is always a special feeling."

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