Kukla's Korner

23 Intently Staring Goalies

Turco-Then and Now

I really want Marty Turco to do well, I really do. It just seems that real life keeps interfering with the coda on his NHL career.

I’ve watched Turco play since his days at UM under Red Berenson. The University of Michigan hockey program at that time looked like the place where NHL caliber goalies were trained, polished, and made ready for a long career in professional hockey. That hasn’t quiet worked out as well as hoped, but Berenson ran (and still runs) a first-class program there.

Back when Turco had just started with the Dallas Stars, I was writing “Handicapping the Goalies”, and I analyzed Turco’s style. Let’s take a look at what was said back in the 2001-2002 season:

Flexibility: ****: Very athletic—will make an impossible save look everyday.
Crankiness: **: Will defend himself, but won’t go out of his way to whap at the opposition.
Maintenance: *: Look, Dallas would explode if they had two high maintenance goalies. Well, they may explode anyway, but it’s not Turco’s fault.

Turco was actually a PE major at U Mich.  Given that PE actually requires you to *take* PE classes, this is becoming much more rare where a number of the future professional athletes are communications majors.

This reflects in Turco’s style, which shows how he plans on beating you—he’s faster, quicker, and more coordinated than you, and he’s going to beat you on sheer athleticism. This isn’t saying that Turco is a shriek and lunge goalie—he plays a modified butterfly—but that he can take that style and overpower by being a better player than his opposition. This is the sort of the play that won Turco the Roger Crozier “Saving Grace” award this past season.

All of this makes Hitchcock’s treatment of Turco this season a puzzle. While his W/L record hasn’t been stellar, neither has Belfour’s, and yet Belfour is getting more starts than Turco.  The Stars are playing the same disorganized hockey in front of either goalie, so there doesn’t seem to be anything there.

At this point, all Turco needs is more experience. As he sees more NHL action, he’s just going to get better. He’s able to learn and adapt his play at any level, and that’s going to make him a threat in goal for a number of seasons to come.

Pluses: Athletic game. Quick glove hand. Learns and adapts quickly.

Minuses: Makes “impossible” saves where setting up during the play would have kept him out of that situation.

Beat him by: Stick side high shots are likely to go in. Multi-pass plays, especially while picking up and rifling rebounds will take the defense out and force Turco to keep reacting.

Update: Turco is still making the spectacular saves after getting himself into a situation where he needs to make spectacular saves. And he’s getting caught at it, which has been turning into one bad goal a game.  Dallas has been letting Turco loose on some higher ranked teams this season, partially because of the number of back to backs, and this is generally where he’s getting stung. However, December has generally been a better month for Turco’s complete games, so maybe he’s figuring this out. Dallas will have to call on him more as the season progresses, because even if Belfour never gets beyond a practice dummy at SLC, he’s going to be two weeks further down the curve.


Okay, this is all from over 10 years ago. What’s changed over the years?  His stickhandling caught up with the NHL style of play—he had been quite the stickhandler at the university level, and kept up with that style in the NHL. Part of the “makes spectaculars saves because he has to make spectacular saves came from his stickhandling early on in his NHL career. That made him one heck of a playmaker for the Stars.

He’s gotten a bit crankier around the goal, but haven’t we all?

And if you watched a lot of Pacific Division hockey, you could time the goal suddenly popping off of its moorings at the worst (or best, depending on whose side you were on) possible time. There are a number of goalies who do this, but Turco was the only one to make it into an art form.


But it’s the athleticism is what stands out for me. Turco was amazing to watch because of his reaction time, his lower body strength, and his quick hands;  he’d find a way to stop the puck when everyone else on the ice thought it was a gimme goal.

The issue with athleticism is that it doesn’t age well, and as reaction times slow and muscles don’t recover as quickly, if you want to continue to be successful, you have to adapt your style. Most goalies will stand up more. position themselves to remove the angle, and get a bit more creative with their stick work. This also means that the defense has to be ready to handle rebounds, because otherwise the second (or third) shot is more likely to get past the goalie. Given the choice between blocking for a goalie or getting in and sweeping the puck, I think most players would rather take the puck up ice instead of getting another bruise.

This brings up a side question—how much should the rest of the team be expected to change their play for the goaltender. Going back to the example of blocking the puck, I’ll bet no one on the Islanders complained when Nabokov told them to stop blocking the puck. And when both Turco and Brodeur were in their primes, and the “magic trapezoid” hadn’t darkened the ice, no one complained about having a goaltender setting up plays and shooting the puck up the ice. But a team who’s used to run and gun might develop a hitch in their style if they’re expected to clean up after a goalie when they’ve spent most of their time expecting the goaltender to do the dirty work.

Something to think about, but I digress….

What I see right now is Turco hitting the ice too often for someone with his puck-handling skills, and when he’s down there, he’s wishing really hard that he was at least 6 ft 2, because the puck is getting shot around him. He needs to start controlling the play earlier, and let his defensemen deal with the snipers from the point. If he’s in the play earlier, he has a better chance of controlling it, and either getting the puck clear or covering the puck and stopping the play.

Otherwise, it’s liable to be a long, slow, rest of the season for both Turco and the Bruins.


Filed in: | 23 Intently Staring Goalies | Permalink
  Tags: boston+bruins, goalie, goaltender, hockey, marty+turco


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About 23 Intently Staring Goalies

23 Intently Staring Goalies comes from the 23 close-up photos of goalies that used to line the walls of my office.

On the good side, it kept down interruptions, but it also made sure I had to leave my trash outside my door if I wanted it picked up.

I've been watching and analyzing goaltenders for going on 40 years. Some of that was spent drawing goalies on my grade 8 math homework. Then it was taking my card decks and printouts to Indianapolis Racer games. Luckily, the Internet took off, and by 1991 I was half of the duo that would ultimately become the Plaidworks hockey mailing lists. I wrote "Handicapping the Goalies' for the San Jose Sharks mailing list, and took a lot of photos of goalies in action. I have around 5000 slides of mostly goaltenders in action from 1989 through 2001 from the WHL, IHL and NHL. Since I've gone digital, I've added about 10,000 more images to the library. During summers and when the league went dark, I was reading through multiple SF By area news papers, tracking ice hockey from the 1917 recreational leagues up through the California Seals.

We'll be talking about goalies and goaltending. We'll talk about whats going on now, who's in the system, and when the doldrums hit, I'll haul something out of the big bag of history, or something from the photo archives. We'll talk about who's hot and why, and who's not and what they can do to get back on track. We'll take a look at the trends in scouting goalies, and why a style may work for one team but not another. I'll battle with my dictation software to get it to understand Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky.

It should be interesting--hope you want to come along for the ride!