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."� 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 Sherwood 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."