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With Marty Turco back in NHL; Here’s How He Changed The Game Forever

With Marty Turco back in NHL; Here’s How He Changed The Game Forever

Marty Turco, seen here with the Dallas Star before signing in Chicago last season, revolutionized goaltending by turning his glove hand over top of the stick to pass the puck. (InGoal Magazine file photo)

Last weekend’s scary-looking injury to Tuukka Rask in Boston opened an unexpected door for Marty Turco for the rest of this season, returning the game’s greatest puck handling goaltender to an NHL he changed forever with his puckhandling.

Turco, whose play this season is limited to a stint in Austria, still has to clear waivers, and the veteran stopper won’t be eligible for the playoffs because he signed the contract – reportedly a pro-rated one year, $600,000 deal – after the trade deadline. But he should be able to help the Bruins properly rest No.1 Tim Thomas down the stretch while Rask heals a lower abdomen and groin injury, a recovery pegged by Boston at between four to six weeks.

Whether Turco, who added some improved structure last season with the Blackhawks to the more flowing, read-and-react style used during his career in Dallas, can show enough for the Bruins to earn another shot in the NHL next season remains to be seen. But there’s no denying the 36-year-old three-time All Star has had a last impact on the way goalies play the game.

With Turco’s incredible stick handling back in the league, InGoal dug into the archives for this feature look at how Ron Hextall inspired him to play the puck more, and how an experiment in college created a new way to do so – for all goalies:

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco prefers the feel of the older, two-piece cuff glove, especially when handling pucks (Scott Slingsby photo)

Ron Hextall was a trailblazer when it comes to goalies handling the puck, inspiring a young Martin Brodeur to play it as often as he stops it.

Hextall has also been widely celebrated as the first goalie to actually shoot a puck into an opponent’s net. But it was a pen – not a stick – that the former Philadelphia great used to inspire another of today’s puck-moving legends. And Marty Turco used that inspiration to completely change how the next generation of goaltenders handles the puck.

“We had a class project to write to someone famous, and Ron was on top of his game – went to the finals, scored goals, won a Vezina – so for me he was just the guy,” Turco once told InGoal Magazine. “So I wrote and he wrote back. It was a pretty cool deal. I wish I still had that 3×5 card with the signature and the little note he wrote. It was pretty cool and now it’s more something that I don’t forget with my fan mail. I realize that we were all young once.”

Except today’s young goalies don’t just look up to Turco and hope to be like him in the general sense. When it comes to puck handling, they are copying him exactly, taught from a young age to turn over their glove hand as they grip the lower part of the stick, a change in philosophy that started with Turco tinkering in college and led to him revolutionizing the way goaltenders everywhere play the puck.

There’s a reason it’s called the Turco Grip.

Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith credits former Stars teammate Marty Turco for improving his puck handling. (Photo courtesy of Dinur Blum).

“He has evolved the game into something it couldn’t have been without his idea,” said Lightning goalie Mike Smith, who credits his time with Turco in Dallas for his current status as one of the league’s better puck-moving goaltenders (so too does Tampa Bay’s Dan Ellis, also an ex-Stars prospect). “It’s funny because you see all the kids doing it now.”

The effects extend far beyond youth leagues: Countless NHL goalies changed their grips mid-career. And to think it all started with Turco tinkering at the University of Michigan.

“In my senior year in college I tried it, but I really worked on it in my first year pro in the minors,” Turco recalled. “The reason I started doing it is I was getting choked about not stopping hard rims on my backhand when I had my hand underneath and you just don’t have much power on your backhand. Coming in on you forehand side you are leaning into it, but on the backhand side it would just push the stick away. I didn’t have the leverage, so this was more just turning my hand over, jamming my stick square into the end boards and then stop it, and at first I’d even then turn my hand back over and under to play it. Then all of a sudden you are playing around with it and you need to do it quick so you shovel it along the ice that way and figure out, ‘hey I can actually saucer it pretty good this way’ and then all of a sudden it’s ‘while, hey I got a way better backhand then I do the other way so now I have two options.’”

And that, in a nutshell, changed how goalies handle the puck.

“We used to always say ‘the goalies going to put it on his forehand side, forehand side: He can only shoot it one-way’ and that happened for years,” said Turco. “But now you don’t hear that as often because guys will flip their hand over and have the ability to push it with conviction to their backside or their weak side. That was a real breakthrough for me to have that option and to even get it off the ice on that side. It was one thing just to push it along the boards, but if you got a guy on the forecheck sealing the wall you’ve got to get it up and over the blade and the sticks and even put it on the glass. It took a long time to have some fire on it, to saucer it and have it land flat so you could actually make passes and not just have grenades blowing up in front of your wingers or having them get pounded by D-men. So that’s how it all started. And I knew it was a pretty good idea when I saw Patrick (Roy) try it later on.”

For Turco, handling the puck comes naturally, but his ability to do it with authority didn’t start to develop until he was in college.

“I was just always big on playing hockey, whether it was road hockey or a tennis ball in my basement, I always had a ball around and was just playing, but I really wasn’t big enough or strong enough to even have any impact on the game or do what I wanted with a puck,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was in college and got some strength and got some confidence and just worked at it, you know, it was practice. I wasn’t one of those guys that could fire it at 13 years old off the glass. It was a constant work in progress and it still is, but for my job it’s a high priority.”

It’s a skill he practices as often as he can, whether after practice starts, or just before. Like the time InGoal Magazine witnessed Turco trading barbs playfully with the trainers. As Turco was skating away backwards, he flipped up a puck that landed perfectly on the dasher board and started to roll towards the coffee cup one of them had placed on the edge.

“He does stuff that you have to think ‘is this guy serious, is he really doing this kind of stuff?’” Smith laughed. “It’s mind boggling sometimes.”

For Turco it’s all part of getting more comfortable with the puck.

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco

Few goalies fire the puck as hard or as accurately as Chicago's Marty Turco (InGoal file photo)

“Shooting it, aiming it, making games out of it, you can play post-post-crossbar with forwards,” Turco said. “That’s a great conditioning drill to have someone dump pucks in and to stop them and play them. More than half the battle for me is stopping the puck, getting it in the right position, and knowing what you are going to do with it before you do it. I think if everybody did that they can get it to the spot, it’s just a matter of corralling the puck, having good jumps and good reads on dump ins – never cheating, but being on your toes at all times. And then having it incorporated into your game plan in practice was a big factor because that’s where you get a lot of your experience. You don’t just want to be cold turkey and think you can start playing pucks. You’ve got to learn if you can win races to pucks, what your defensemen are going to expect out of you, how they are going to turn, you have to remember if they are right handed or left handed to put it in the best possible positions for them. There is a lot that goes into it mentally.”

Special thanks to Dinur Blum for the Mike Smith photo, please check out more of his pictures.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

6 Comments

  1. patrick

    one of the best plays i have seen in a while for puck handling skill was mike smith last year in the playoffs against boston where on a P/K he made a save dropped the puck and from his knees he cleared the puck from the zone down past the red line.

    being a goalie i was amazed people sitting around me didnt have a clue lol but to me was amazing watchign him shot that far and high from his knees

  2. Derek

    Also. Famous for the Turco break in the Reebok pads! Its a small detail but makes a huge difference in my game. I hate the flat pads and the one break on the knee.

  3. BeninLondon

    That shot from the knees is a great one to practice before a game starts and you would be surprised at how often it comes in handy. I normally stretch on the half-boards as the guys skate and rip shots at the net. The number of times that they miss and it comes around to you is amazing, so before I head in to take some shots I take a couple of the pucks that collected around me and shoot with either both knees or one knee down.
    My max is from the boards just into the crease so in a game I know that I can get it to the edge of the ice and buy a little time and room for the wingers to pick up the puck. Watching that game was where I got the idea

  4. Sk8save

    Turco, “the game’s greatest puck handling goaltender” ?? As evidenced by……? Listen, until he scores a couple of goals ( including short-handed in the playoffs), leads the league in goaltender assists and has the NHL invent a (trapezoid) rule to stop him from handling the puck, that honor, like almost every other “best” goalie honor, belongs to Brodeur.

  5. Ken

    In the summer of 1997, Turco was going into his senior year at Michigan while I was heading into my senior year of high school. I had the privilege of being under his tutelage at the U of M summer hockey camp. Turco worked one on one with the goalies, and I remember him showing me this technique because I was having trouble with the standard grip of my backhand. Problem was, my Brian’s glove at the time wasn’t that great, so I never adopted his technique until just a few years ago. But it was cool being there.

    • Ryan

      I went to U of M hockey camp too. Turco was also my goalie coach. He was a very cool and down to earth guy. I’m not sure if I went in 1997 or 1998, but it was right around that time. I also remember Steve Shields showing up in his San Jose Sharks equipment. Good times..