Marty Turco’s summer vacation must have been pretty disappointing and stressful. After a mediocre season in Chicago where he was replaced by rookie Corey Crawford as the starter, Turco was unable to find an NHL home in free agency. The uncertain future for himself and his family likely added some stress to the summer months, but he wasn’t willing to retire just yet.
“I want to play some more,” he said back in September. “I still think I can play in this league. I’m not ready for plans after hockey just yet.” Those plans will likely include a transition to television as an analyst, a role he played during the 2011 playoffs after the Blackhawks were eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks.
Turco likely thought that a call from an NHL team was not far away, as several teams had uncertain goaltending situations heading into training camp. NHL teams, however, seemed to be frightened away from his career-low save percentage of .897 and career-high goals against average of 3.02 in 2010-11. Consensus seemed to be that he just wasn’t the same goaltender as the Vezina-nominated All-Star he once was.
Even now, with Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson stinking things up in Tampa Bay and Blue Jackets fans desperately praying that Curtis Sanford of all people is the solution to Steve Mason’s woes, Turco hasn’t been signed. There were rumours that the Maple Leafs were interested in him, but they were quickly repudiated.
Turco’s performance last season with the Blackhawks certainly left something to be desired, but the season prior he put up a .913 save percentage, same as Roberto Luongo and better than Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, and Marc-Andre Fleury. His save percentage was just league-average, but both the Lightning and the Blue Jackets could really use some average goaltending right now.
With his summer vacation ruined by the stress of not know where he’s going to work, Turco decided that he was going to spend his winter vacation doing what he loves best: playing hockey. So he did what many NHL players do when they can’t find a job in North America: he headed to Europe. But he clearly didn’t want to close any doors on the NHL, so he made sure that his European vacation was temporary.
First, he signed a short-term contract with Austrian Hockey League (aka. Erste Bank Hockey League) champions EC Red Bull Salzburg to appear in their invitational tournament, the Red Bulls Salute. This tournament was designed to be the capstone to the European Trophy, a pre-season tournament featuring some of the best teams in Europe. With 5 of Salzburg’s best players suiting up for Austria in the Österreich Cup, they brought in a few ringers to fill out the ranks.
Salzburg won the tournament and Turco was impressive in his three starts. It’s difficult to nail down his exact save percentage – Elite Prospects (.944), Euro Hockey (.947), and the official European Trophy site (.950) all report different numbers – but it’s clear that Turco was one of, if not the, best goaltenders in the tournament, posting a goals against average of 1.95 (or 1.92, it’s hard to tell).
What is certain is that Turco won all three games for Salzburg, clinching the Red Bulls Salute and, by extension, the European Trophy.
He was clearly having a good time on his vacation, as he decided to stay in Europe a little longer, joining Team Canada to participate in the Spengler Cup, another invitational tournament, though one with more history and prestige. The important thing for Turco, other than playing hockey being a marked improvement over not playing hockey, is that the Spengler Cup has a bigger connection to the NHL and he is more likely to get him noticed in North America.
First and foremost, the Spengler Cup is televised in Canada and receives some attention in the nightly hockey highlights, meaning his name might get mentioned a few times in the media.
Secondly, Team Canada will be coached by another guy likely hoping to find an NHL job: Marc Crawford.
And finally, the Canadian team features a number of former NHL players currently playing in Europe, like Glen Metropolit, Stacy Roest, and Byron Ritchie, as well as players on loan from their North American clubs like Ryan Parent, Jake Allen, and Brett McLean. He will also be facing some former NHL players, with the biggest name being Sandis Ozolins (Dinamo Riga). Turco can likely treat this as his training camp, both proving to NHL teams that he can still play and warming up his game against quasi-NHL talent.
Canada dominated HC Vitkovice Steel in their tournament opener on Monday, thumping the Czech Republic team 7-1. Turco made 30 saves in the win, but had to suffer the ignominy of being scored on by a 17-year-old Australian. In his defence, however, that Australian was Nathan Walker, who is ranked 6th in the Czech Republic by Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, meaning he might be the first Australian ever to get drafted in the NHL. Now there’s a story to keep an eye on.
Turco will be looking to string together several similar performances over the next week, with one eye on winning the Spengler Cup and the other on the NHL. A European vacation is nice, but the European Trophy and Spengler Cup just don’t compare to Lord Stanley’s Cup.
He just has to be careful not to get stuck in a roundabout.