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Mighty Marty With his aggressive, high-risk style, the Stars' Marty Turco is playing goalie like nobody else

Dec. 16, 2002
Dec. 16, 2002

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Dec. 16, 2002

Mighty Marty With his aggressive, high-risk style, the Stars' Marty Turco is playing goalie like nobody else

Marty Turco is a backyard goaltender playing on North America's
biggest ponds. "Everything I've ever done was raw," says Turco,
the Dallas Stars' netminder. "Get out there and stop the puck,
that's all I'm supposed to do. My style has always been no
style."

This is an article from the Dec. 16, 2002 issue

That was evident during a game against the Vancouver Canucks
last month when Turco stuffed winger Trent Klatt with a move
that would have made Jackie Chan proud. As Klatt bulled in from
the right wing, Turco squared to the play at the short-side
post, then sprawled to the ice face first as Klatt neared the
cage. Barrel-rolling in the crease, Turco followed Klatt across
the slot, and while on his belly he pokechecked the puck out of
harm's way. Turco must have taken a fire safety course that
day: He executed a perfect stop, drop and roll.

This is the genius of Turco, who is to traditional goaltending
what Jackson Pollock was to painting within the lines. In a
league of artful butterflyers and by-the-angle stand-up
goalkeepers, Turco transforms his crease into a mosh pit of
flailing arms, flopping legs and flashing skates. When he roams
from the cage, as is his preference, the 27-year-old Turco
becomes a thickly padded third defenseman prowling the corners
and back boards, itching to whip a breakout pass. He is an
aggressive, unconventional keeper, and 10 weeks into his first
NHL starting role, Turco has been sparkling. Through Sunday he
was 13-5-2 with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .934 save
percentage for the Stars, a talent-laden club with the
second-best record in the league and Stanley Cup aspirations. "He
may look unorthodox, but hey, he gets the job done," says rookie
coach Dave Tippett. "His second effort is what turns him from an
average goalie into a very good one."

It's his second effort, and his third and sometimes fourth, that
have enabled Turco to thrive. He routinely makes stops from
positions that seem inspired by a Twister mat (left skate in
front, glove hand on the ice, right skate behind!), and when
describing them, players tend to ramble. Minnesota Wild winger
Bill Muckalt, a former teammate of Turco's at Michigan, says his
favorite Turco moment came against Notre Dame during their senior
season, in 1997--98. "On a breakaway, Marty makes the first save,
and he's flat on his back for the rebound, but somehow he gets a
piece of it," recalls Muckalt. "The guy gets another
rebound--he's got time to drink a cup of coffee before he
shoots--and he roofs the third shot. But with the paddle of his
stick Marty bats it into the stands."

Though Turco has been successful at every stage of his career--he
won two national championships and an NCAA-record 127 games at
Michigan, and since entering the NHL in 2000--01 he has had the
best goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.926) of
any netminder who has played at least 50 games in the modern
era--his quick reflexes couldn't mask his flawed fundamentals in
his first two seasons with Dallas. "Mike Modano would take a
onetimer in practice, and I'd catch up to it and think, I must be
on today," says Turco, who was a fifth-round draft pick by the
Stars in 1994. "Meanwhile, I'd let in 20 goals through the five
hole or under the arm. I needed to become more technical."

Since then Turco has worked to improve his patience and
positioning. This season new goaltending coach Andy Moog has
introduced drills that help Turco read passes more accurately and
square to the shooter more effectively, minimizing the need for a
pratfall save. "The idea is to get him in a position in which he
can make the first save easily," says veteran backup Ron Tugnutt.
"Then he's got a better chance if he has to make the second one
in desperation."

Turco remains a daring and exceptional puckhandler, but he has
made his share of mistakes this season. In a 3--2 loss to the
Florida Panthers on Oct. 30 he surrendered the overtime
game-winner when he sped to the left corner to play Valeri Bure's
dump-in but lost the race to the puck and couldn't return to the
crease fast enough to stop Bure's wraparound. The next day some
of the Stars took a playful jab at Turco's wanderlust by tying a
bungee cord to his locker, but Turco vowed not to alter his
style, and his coaches backed his decision. "He reads the play so
well and his ability to execute under pressure is so good that
it's not gambling much to let him play the puck," Moog says.
"Watch and you'll see him outlet the puck under forecheck
pressure, going tape-to-tape with his defenseman. Nobody else
does that." Indeed, Turco's puck-pursuit and passing skills
curtail so many opponents' offensive chances and shave so many
valuable seconds off power-play breakouts that it makes the
occasional gaffe easier for Dallas to swallow.

Turco's greatest asset may be his demeanor. Fragile egos, flaky
pregame rituals and tightly wound personalities are often the
norm for goaltenders. Turco is the opposite. He's an easygoing,
chatty keeper who, an hour or two before game time, can be found
booting a soccer ball around a hallway in the American Airlines
Arena with center Manny Malhotra and defenseman Sergei Zubov.
During warmups, when he tires of making saves, he'll glide to the
blue line and practice outlet passes, flipping pucks the width of
the rink. "He always took everything so casually," says Michigan
coach Red Berenson. "It seemed like he was not involved in the
game at all, standing in the net as a matter of putting in his
time. Then the puck's in the slot, there's a scoring chance, he's
finally interested, and he makes it look easy."

Turco sums up his outlook this way: "At the end of the day not
much is life-altering." During a game against the St. Louis Blues
on Oct. 19, Turco got into a dustup with winger Scott Mellanby,
who was in the crease. Turco tried to move Mellanby by performing
a Sher-wood lobotomy, taking a high-sticking penalty in the
process. Five days later the Dallas charter to Vancouver was
forced by fog to land in Calgary, where the team had to spend the
night. Coincidentally, the Blues were in town to play the Flames,
so Turco met Mellanby for a beer. "He says I should stick to
playing goal," Turco laughs, "and he's probably right."

There's more than enough to occupy him in net as he redefines the
position of goaltender. "I enjoy the moment of stopping pucks,
the simplicity of scoring or not scoring," he says, "and I see so
much room for improvement in my play. Maybe I make my legs a
little stronger or I get better at being in the right spot to
react. My movement, my positioning, they're going to be as
effortless as breathing."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL DON'T GO THERE In his third season the aggressive Turco has learned to play the angles--and has given up just 1.66 goals pergame.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL STAR QUALITY Turco's ability to move the puck to his defensemencan keep opponents from forechecking aggressively.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL [See caption above]