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Saturday, May 29, 2004
Updated: June 1, 2:51 AM ET
Turek dealing with demotion

By Jim Kelley
ESPN.com

Look closely into Roman Turek's locker and you'll see the usual goaltender paraphernalia: odd-style skates, oversize pads, wild graphic helmet and the usual assortment of voodoo dolls.

OK, maybe not the dolls. But there has been an oddity in Turek's locker ever since the Calgary Flames won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals -- a green hardhat with the Flames' logo embossed on the front.

What makes it odd is that the hardhat is a team award, and it generally goes to the player who made a substantial contribution to the Flames in their last game. Turek didn't play in Calgary's 4-1 win vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. He didn't play in the finals-clinching game vs. San Jose, either. In fact, Turek hasn't started a single game for the Flames in these playoffs and has seen only 20 minutes of action -- a mop-up session after Miikka Kiprusoff got the hook in an early-round loss to San Jose.

So why the hardhat?

"I wanted him to know that he's still a part of this team and that we appreciate his contributions," said Dave Lowry, a veteran forward, who, like Turek, hasn't played a significant role in the postseason. "The guys gave it to me one time when I was behind the bench for four games [vs. Detroit], and it meant a lot to me because it was their way of letting me know that I was still making a contribution.

"I wanted Roman to know he's doing the same."

The Flames hold all their goaltenders in special regard. Ask any one of them about the contributions of now-departed Jamie McLennan, and they'll tell you he is as much a part of their overall success this season as any player still in the room. Ask them about Turek, who was Calgary's starter until he suffered a knee injury early in the season, and they'll tell you that the emergence of Kiprusoff as the No. 1 man has not dimmed their appreciation of Turek.

Athletes know the realities of a competitive workplace better than most people. They understand that it's a "live in the moment" life and that coaches' decisions are most often based on the greater good of the team. Turek is healthy enough to play, but Kiprusoff is the one who has carried the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals. That means the former starter is the backup. That can be difficult for any player to accept, but it is especially tough for goaltenders because they're used to being relied on for so much, so being relied on for just being there isn't enough.

"Roman goes out there every day and helps us," Lowry said. "I wanted him to know how much we appreciate that. I wanted him to know we think he's still a part of the reason we've gotten to where we are."

And while it's not the Conn Smythe Trophy (something Kiprusoff could well win), Turek seemed to appreciate it almost as much.

"I definitely didn't expect it," he said. "I didn't play, so I was surprised.

"I'm so glad, though, that the guys have that feeling about me, that I'm helping the team. Since this, I've just tried to be myself and do my job. I just go out there and do it, but for them to feel that I help them win, that's a good feeling."

It's not likely Turek will regain his role as the Flames' No. 1 goalie. Kiprusoff is playing too well for anyone to think coach Darryl Sutter would make that kind of a change, no matter how healthy Turek might be. The fact that general manager/coach Darryl Sutter was the one who pulled the trigger on the deal that brought Kiprusoff to Calgary after Turek went down is something to consider.

Sutter dismissed a question about Turek's contributions to the team, saying only that he lost his starting job because he "tore up a knee." He also acknowledged that Turek is now healthy and ended the conversation.

If he holds the goaltender in any esteem, it wasn't forthcoming.

It's a situation that doesn't seem to bother Turek.

"To know that the guys appreciate what I do is a great feeling," he said.

He's got the hardhat to prove it.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.