Turco follows in Tony O's footsteps

CHICAGO -- He shares the same hometown as Tony Esposito, the same family boathouse even, back in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. And until he became a Chicago Blackhawk, Marty Turco wore the same No. 35 as the Hall of Fame goaltender.

He's No. 30 now, a small concession to wear the same jersey as his hero.

"You don't think it will all come full circle in your life," Turco said Tuesday.

If it seems meant to be that Turco ended up a Blackhawk, all the better for a team whose fans may require a program for a while. Better still that at age 35, the former Michigan star appears to skate in not just as an adequate stopgap in place of the departed playoff hero Antti Niemi, but as a bona-fide leader as well as a superb goaltender.

The team and the player say they were at the top of each other's lists and it's easy to believe Turco, who accepted almost $4 million less than he earned last season in Dallas when he signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract to play for the Blackhawks.

Turco remembered well the call from his agent in July to tell him that Hawks general manager Stan Bowman was interested in him if the cap-strapped club could not re-sign Niemi.

"That's a feeling I'll never forget because I felt like that was one door that had closed," Turco said. "That call was huge even if it did not sound that promising."

When Niemi's $2.75 million arbitration victory turned out to be the Hawks' loss, Turco was both surprised and thrilled.

"You don't expect the Stanley Cup champions to make as many changes and as grand as they have …" he said. "Just the thought of these guys having that parade and coming back hungry and ready to do it again was all I could think about. To know that opportunity was still out there was well worth the wait."

Turco called the Hawks' "kids," as in: "These kids looked like they had some fun last year and I wanted to be a part of it." And while at 21, Jonathan Toews provides plenty of leadership along with Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp, it never hurts to have a veteran in the net.

"Sometimes goaltenders are a bit different, they kind of keep to themselves," Bowman said. "He's not like that. He really assimilates with the group and I think he's going to fit in great with our young guys here."

Bowman promises he's done, no more major moves after ridding the team of nine players worth of cap space. The Hawks rolled the dice and won the Stanley Cup. And now, despite keeping their core group intact, they are a new team, make no mistake about it.

Coach Joe Quenneville said he is most anxious to simply see his team take the ice, to discover its potential offensively and the consistency of their team game.

"The chemistry might be a concern for other people," he said. "I don't think that's going to be an issue at all. I just think the upside could be there and that's what I'm most excited about: How good can we be?"

Turco will be fun to watch, a puck-handling goalie who some will say handles it too much but who will be an extra offensive stick on the defensive end.

"I think he's going to make life a little more enjoyable on our defense as far as going back to get some dangerous pucks or, all of a sudden, it's a clean pass in the neutral zone and we're attacking on the offense," Quenneville said. "He kind of compliments our team game, a fast game, a puck-possession game."

Turco knows his job.

"They pay me to stop the puck," he said.

But he also knows what he can do with Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in transition.

"I know these snipers don't want to be waiting for the puck. They want it as soon as possible. We'll see if I can get it to them ASAP."

Perhaps most important, though, is that Quenneville knows who his No. 1 goalie is this season.

"Having that nailed down right from the outset will be healthy for us," Quenneville said.

No one sounded happier than Turco's idol, present at Tuesday's news conference.

"This is his prime, the next three, four or five years …" Esposito said. "You've got the experience and you're able to handle the pressure better. When I knew they had an opportunity to get him, I knew that it would be good for this team. He's a guy that's been around. He's healthy and not that old. He can play for another several years and, with this defense we've got, he'll do really well."

Turco wants to do more than play well.

"I've never won a Stanley Cup," he said. "I've only played in the Western Conference finals once. That's why I play the game. … These are things that bug me when I go to bed at night and make me focus when I get up in the morning."

Even for the Stanley Cup champions, it's kind of nice to feel wanted.

"It's really evident that he wanted to be here and that goes a long way with us and I think it's going to go a long way with his teammates, too," Bowman said. "He believes in them and that's why he chose to come here. He could have gone anywhere, but he wanted to be with us."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.