Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Marty Turco: Special to see Mike Smith play
By Scott Burnside
TAMPA, Fla. -- We recall flying into Dallas the day after the 2008 trade deadline to chronicle the arrival of Brad Richards.
While there was great excitement at the arrival of the former playoff MVP, we were struck by a kind of melancholy exhibited by netminder Marty Turco. We shouldn't have been. He just had to say goodbye to a man he has often described as his little brother, backup netminder Mike Smith.
Fast forward to this week, when Smith was called on by the Tampa Bay Lightning to help keep their playoff dreams alive. If Smith was anxious during his first NHL playoff experience, Turco admitted he, too, felt more than a little anxiety for his long-time prodigy and close friend.
"It was really a sense of pride and being proud. Like a big brother or even a dad would be," Marty Turco said of watching Mike Smith's play in this series.
"Of course I've been watching," Turco told ESPN.com on Tuesday morning after Smith got his first playoff start, a 3-1 loss that gave the Boston Bruins a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
"Any time you get to see someone that's close to you at this time of year, it's pretty special. I was a tad bit nervous. It was fun to be hanging on every save."
The two netminders remain close and have been in regular contact during the playoffs.
Turco, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer, has been doing analysis for the NHL Network and was working Saturday when Smith came off the bench for the second time in this series. Trailing 3-0, the Bolts rebounded for a big 5-3 win thanks in part to Smith's 21-save performance, which earned him his first postseason victory.
During breaks in the game, Turco was messaging Smith's wife, Brigitte, who is pregnant with the couple's first child. Turco's wife was also in contact with Smith's wife.
"It was really a sense of pride and being proud. Like a big brother or even a dad would be," Turco said of watching Smith's play in this series.
It was Turco and his wife who introduced Smith to his future wife at a charity golf tournament in Turco's hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Smith's wife was a world-class international skier and had been a participant in Turco's tournament prior to Smith's arrival in Dallas. Turco invited Smith to join the tournament, and he ended up playing alongside his future wife.
"Mike was being Mike," Turco said. "We didn't set them up on the blind date, but we put them in the same arena."
Smith was drafted by the Stars. When he first came to Dallas, he lived with Turco for three months, getting to know both the goalie and man.
"I grew up watching him. I wanted to be just like him when I was a lot younger," Smith told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
"Obviously his words mean a lot to me. He's still a great mentor for myself," the native of the Kingston, Ontario, area said.
Having seen him grow, Turco said he likes what he's seen of Smith in his understudy role in the Eastern Conference finals.
He has allowed just two goals on 48 shots, and Turco said he sees Smith's confidence reflected in the way he's snapping the puck around.
"He's played with conviction and that's a great sign for him and his confidence," Turco said. "I know he's working really hard."
Smith couldn't be faulted for the two goals he allowed in Game 5, both the result of broken coverage in the defensive zone.
"That type of game is not a confidence eroder for him," Turco said. "The thing that is always constant about Mike is that he cares, and he's competitive, and he's a tremendous athlete."
As for his own future, Turco did not have a great season statistically or, as he puts it, "it was not a back-of-a-hockey-card year." Turco will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
But he said his experience in Chicago was gratifying after playing his whole career in Dallas.
He and his family plan to stay in Chicago until he retires, if it works out that way. If not, though, he feels great and would like to play.
"The playoffs just cemented that belief," he said of the Blackhawks' thrilling seven-game loss to Vancouver in the opening round.