Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking a first look at Marty Turco, the new Blackhawks goalie

Marty Turco has been very, very busy on the local media rounds, saying all the right things to help reassure a salary-cap-shocked fanbase: talking about a desire to win, a desire to help a young and talented team, and most of all, a drive to be a winner, to get the opportunity to hoist the big, beautiful silver trophy that the Blackhawks have been carrying around since June 9th.

"The opportunity to play for a winner, to come to the city of Chicago, was the most important thing," Turco said in a press conference that was carried live via internet feed on CSN and the Blackhawks website. "These kids looked like they had some fun last year, and I want to be a part of it."

Marty Turco's introductory press conference (BHTV)

In nine years with the Dallas Stars, Turco has compiled a record of: 509 games, 262-191-26;  (W-L-T; 37 of those losses came in OT), with a career average .911 SV% and 2.31 GAA. (Playoff statistics of .914 SV%/2.17 GAA). In short, a respectable career. The Stars last won the Stanley Cup in 1999 (before Turco started with the team in 2000-01 season) and struggled to find their way deep into the Playoffs over the next decade - the closest they came was in 2008, when they lost in the Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. The Defending Big D blog has a very good write-up about Turco's career in Dallas.

Turco just turned 35, and hasn't been hesitant to say that being part of a championship team is a strong motivational factor for him.

"I look forward to the opportunity to stand in my crease in the Madhouse on Madison and get the chance to make some saves and get the people up on their feet, hopefully like in those highlights."

Being part of winning team isn't his sole motivation, however. Growing up, Turco's hockey idol was Tony Esposito, who came from the same hometown - Sault St. Marie, Ontario. "Tony O" played for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1969-1984; his number, 35, now hangs in the rafters at the United Center.

"Watching one of your hometown heroes grow up, and hear the stories....  The chance to play for an Original Six team here in Chicago, to be a Blackhawk, and to wear the same jersey that Tony has worn is something that's irreplaceable, things that you don't think will come full circle in your life and your career in hockey," Turco stated during the press conference. "It's an opportunity that I take very dearly."

Turco has spent his NHL career wearing #35 in honor of Esposito, but since that number is retired in Chicago, he'll be wearing #30 instead.

Tony Esposito talks about Turco

No doubt that Coach Quenneville is eager to see how Turco's strong puck handling prowess will combine with his pack of two-way defensemen. When asked if he would be aiming to break any records for goalie assists, Turco talked around things a bit before finally stating with a smile, "They pay me to stop the puck."

But he did also discuss how he could see himself adding to the defensive puck moving, to get the puck up to the front-line snipers like Toews, Hossa, and Kane, to help speed up Chicago's already impressive puck-moving game. His technique has been dubbed the "Turco Transition", and has a good writeup about it; see page 14 on that spread.

Turco also spoke about getting to know his teammates, learning player styles and personalities and getting to become part of the local hockey family. It's clear that although he's saying all the right things, which will sound reassuring to fans and media, he means them, too. He is looking forward to being a part of the Blackhawks team, its history, and most of all, to help the team do the best they can at defending their championship and to hopefully earn another one next spring. He clearly has a lot of respect and knowledge about the players on the team, giving a particular nod to Jonathan Toews. At one point he referenced the other players as "kids", and caught himself, acknowledging with a small smile that he's the oldest one on the team, at 35 years old. And he seems really pleased to be in Chicago in general, not just as a hockey player, but the city itself, stating on an interview on ABC7 that they had gotten a place in Wrigleyville.

Another thing that was very clear from the press conference is that Turco is very comfortable in front of the media. With many players, you'll see them do the press work,  but not all of them become fully comfortable with it. Turco radiated ease and confidence - we should probably expect to see him interviewed frequently in the season ahead, and no doubt that he will be a good addition to the locker room chemistry.

ABC7Chicago's interview with Turco

ABC7Chicago interviewed Turco on Tuesday morning. Turco very graciously complimented Antti Niemi's play for the Hawks last season, but also acknowledged that "stepping into somebody's shoes" is always part of the game.

There is no doubt that the quiet Finn drew a huge legion of fans in Chicago, which was remarkable in itself, as there has not been any particularly remarkable - or popular - goalies in the Blackhawks' crease for quite a few years. Fan reaction to Niemi's departure has been split down the middle after the team walked away from his $2.75M arbitration ruling. News came through today via Twitter that it looks like the San Jose Sharks will be signing Niemi to a 1-year, $2M deal (currently unconfirmed by the Sharks as of 9/1), which will mean Niemi will be back up as a UFA next spring. It's a smart move by Niemi - he will play a year with a solid Western Conference competitor, and if he has a good year, it will solidify his standing and worth. He'll most likely be playing a tandem 1A/1B position with fellow Finn, Antero Niittymaki, who spent five years with the Flyers and one with Tampa Bay before signing with San Jose this summer.

Niemi's last encounter with the Sharks was a 4-game sweep in the Western Conference finals in the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although Sharks GM Doug Wilson has spent most of the summer stating there was "no interest" in Niemi from his club, it is perhaps not surprising that Wilson would look to beef up his goaltending situation a bit, especially as the Sharks are still hurting defensively, and he was unsuccessful at poaching Niklas Hjalmarsson away from the Blackhawks.

Those who watched Niemi play all year recognized him as a strong athlete, and as even his ex-teammates who have been traded away to other teams continue to say (such as Andrew Ladd in an article on tonight), he works very hard and battles hard for the puck. Niemi made a lot of outstanding, memorable saves throughout the season, such as the one that was featured in a "History Will Be Made commercial. 

Niemi fans should appreciate the same out of Marty Turco, who is very agressive handling the puck as a goalie. He's also fast and athletic, which will make him exciting to watch. Add in his personality, his love of the game and his obvious respect for the team, and his happiness at coming to Chicago - this is the guy, after all, who had to wait a month to sign, and then signed for 75% less than he was paid last year, because the opportunity meant that much to him - and you've got all the ingredients shaping up to give the Blackhawks a new fan favorite within the crease.

I'm one of the fans who was definitely disappointed to see Niemi go. But I also understand the realities of the salary cap when it comes to sports, and know that it's inevitable that sometimes favorite players don't get to stick around.

After watching and listening to Turco talk hockey and the Blackhawks over the past week, I'm actually feeling pretty eager to see what he'll do with the Blackhawks. As I discussed recently on, Chicago has retained its most important core players. Combined with new guys who'll be hungry to prove themselves, I think that Blackhawks fans are in for another exciting season.
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Other videos from the past few days:

ESPN's interview with Turco

Stan Bowman discusses Turco

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From the YouTube files: Marty Turco mic'd up for the All-Star Game, 2007

Kind of funny when he's talking to the commentators, 
and he's like, "Wait a minute", while he goes to make a play.

"Are we distracting you?"

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