Dominic Turgeon is building a reputation as a strong, two-way center with solid defensive play, expert penalty killing skills and a newfound scoring touch.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Dominic Turgeon is no different than most players who come into the American Hockey League with the hope of improving their skills and someday earning a spot in the NHL.
Chosen in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, he joined the Griffins last season after four junior seasons with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.
He came to Grand Rapids with great expectations – perhaps greater than most players selected in his draft position, the 63rd overall pick – due, in no small part, to his name.
His father is Pierre Turgeon, who netted 515 goals during 19 seasons in the NHL, including a career-high 58 goals in 1992-93 with the New York Islanders.
Currently an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, the elder Turgeon became a five-time all-star after being chosen first overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. A former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Turgeon was also the recipient of the Lady Bing Memorial Trophy in 1993.
Being the offspring of a player with Hockey Hall of Fame credentials (despite 1,327 points in 1,294 NHL games, his father still awaits his HOF call), expectations can be unreasonably high for a young man seeking to build his own reputation.
For Dominic, however, being a Turgeon has definitely been a blessing, not a curse.
“I’ve never felt pressure because of the name,” he said. “My dad obviously had a phenomenal career and did amazing things, but for some reason it’s never really affected me. I knew I was a different player from him and so I wanted to play the game the way I could.”
He started playing hockey at age four, settling into the same position on the ice as his father. “I learned a lot from my dad,” he said. “He was a center, so he taught me a lot of tricks growing up. As a kid, I learned so much from him and I worked hard to become better at it.”
Being around his father’s teammates had an enormous influence on young Dominic. While he was growing up, his father played five seasons in St. Louis, three more in Dallas and, lastly, two in Colorado.
“I remember going with him to morning skates and practices,” he said. “It was a ton of fun as a child. It was cool to go into the locker room at a young age and see guys like Bill Guerin (in Dallas) and Ian Laperriere (in Colorado). The way they treated me helped me to see that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a pro hockey player.”
Watching his father play provided great joy. The hockey rink became his classroom after school. “Even on school nights, I always wanted to go,” he said. “After the games, I’d go home with him late. I was all about the hockey life and I wanted to watch him play every chance I could get.”
He accepted his father’s advice like a star pupil listens to a teacher.
“Growing up, he taught me the little things about the game that you don’t really notice,” he said. “To this day, I think his advice about certain situations on the ice and (what happens in) those little battles has helped me as I got older.”
He isn’t the only Turgeon to benefit from his father’s mentoring. He has a younger sister, Val, who currently plays hockey at Harvard University. His older sister, Liz, was a member of the first U.S. Women’s Under-18 Hockey Team to capture a gold medal. She was set to play at the University of Minnesota before she was killed in a traffic accident in 2010.
Her death was a terrible blow to the Turgeon family, including twin sister Alex.
“It was devastating,” he said. “She was 18 and I was 14 at the time. It didn’t seem real. Those first couple of years (after she died) were really rough, especially on my mother. We were a close family, but it brought us that much closer.”
Turgeon said he is thankful for the time that he was able to spend with Liz before her passing. To this day, he still feels her presence. ”Obviously, I’m sad that she’s away, but I definitely feel like every time I’m on the ice that she’s with me.”
Two years after his sister’s death, Turgeon headed to Portland, Ore., where he would blossom with the Winterhawks major junior team over the course of four WHL seasons.
“As a 16-year-old, I didn’t play much because we had a really good team,” he recalled. “I got to play with a lot of good players – Nic Petan, Seth Jones, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Dumba – and just worked my way up. By my fourth year in juniors, I felt comfortable and became a go-to guy.”
His point totals improved every year, increasing from 8 to 31 to 43 to 70 in his final season, when he tallied 36 goals and 34 assists in 72 games. “It was partly from working at it, but also from getting more opportunity,” he said.
Getting drafted by the Red Wings was obviously a big thrill.
“Since I was a little kid, I dreamed about one day being drafted into the NHL,” he said. “When the dream came true, I was happy to experience it with my family. I was thankful they were there because without them, it never would have been possible.”
He credits his father’s tutelage with teaching him the things he needed to know. “When you’re younger, you’re just playing the game and having fun,” he said. “As you grow older, things get more serious, and that’s where my dad was good about letting me know it was time to start doing things like training in the summer.”
His adjustment to pro hockey last season was rather uneventful. “With this team, I got comfortable pretty fast,” he said. “It took a couple of games to get more comfortable and to adjust to the pace and speed of the game, but as the year went on, I think I adjusted well.”
By mid-season, Turgeon was establishing himself as one of the team’s top penalty killers. By the time of the Calder Cup Playoffs, he and teammate Colin Campbell had become a dynamic duo in terms of creating havoc when the other team had the man-advantage.
One of their most memorable penalty kills came during Game 2 of the opening round against Milwaukee, when they traded the puck back-and-forth below the Admirals’ goal line for 40 seconds.
“I thought we had chemistry from the start and we were able to build on it,” Turgeon said. “When you know where each other is going to be, it makes the game that much easier. He’s a great player and he works really hard, so it’s great playing with him.”
Turgeon said their rapport happened rather naturally. “The more you play with someone, the more you build chemistry,” he said. “We like to be aggressive up ice, while power play guys love to hold onto the puck and make plays. If we can make their lives miserable, we’re doing our job.”
This season, Turgeon has developed his scoring touch. Before the season had even reached its midpoint, he already had exceeded his rookie year’s totals for goals, assists and points. He recorded eight goals and 13 assists in the Griffins’ first 34 games.
“Confidence in a hockey player is huge, and last year definitely helped build my confidence,” Turgeon said. “The biggest thing for me is experience. Obviously the playoff run and winning the Cup helped a ton, so I came into this season knowing what to expect. I wanted to expand my role.”
Griffins head coach Todd Nelson was happy to oblige.
“Dominic has developed quicker than we thought he would,” Nelson said. “Last year he went from being in and out of the lineup to being one of our mainstays the rest of the year. He’s a hard worker and he does a great job on the penalty kill.”
Nelson has not been surprised at the frequency that Turgeon’s line has found the back of the net this season. “That’s a by-product of his hard work,” he said. “When he’s getting chances, he’s finishing and scoring goals. That’s great to see.”
Turgeon, who won’t turn 22 until Feb. 25, knows he still has much to learn. “As a player, I think my quickness is something I can improve,” he said. “I’d like to be more explosive those first three steps. I also want to continue to improve my defensive game, but I’d like to use my body more and take more pucks to the net, and shoot more, too.”
He’s getting more prime minutes this season and he’s doing what he can to make the most of his opportunities. Even if he never becomes a prolific scorer in the mold of his father, his defensive play will likely always be his greatest strength.
“I feel like coach trusts me more and that’s a big thing for me,” he said. “I’m playing the best I can with the minutes I’m getting. I’m going to take great pride in that.”