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Griffs goalie Turner learns how tough it is to be perfect

There’s an element of perfectionism to Reilly Turner’s game. As with most good goaltenders, perfectionism fuels the intrinsic motivation, driving his work ethic and competitiveness. It also is the source of demons, the whisper of doubt after a mistake that has the potential to drag the netminder’s confidence and save percentage into a downward spiral.

His perfectionism became a source of frustration early this season as the sophomore became the No. 1 goalie for the Canisius Golden Griffins.

He let in some bad goals and suffered from horrible first-period performances. There were flashes of great goaltending, but consistency was lacking with his decision-making suspect at times.

But Turner turned in back-to-back solid games for the Griffs last weekend against Air Force in Colorado. He let in three goals and made 39 saves in a loss on Friday and rebounded with a career-best 42 saves in a 4-2 win on Saturday.

This Reilly Turner – confident, simple, effective – is the one Canisius needed to find its footing in the final games of the first semester.

“The expectation was that Reilly was going to carry the bulk of the games and I think what happened is he put a lot of pressure on himself with every shot and every save instead of just playing the game,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “And he started to question the save selection. There’s a variety of saves you can choose on any shot attempt and he was selecting the wrong save. I think it challenged his confidence.

“It’s a matter of finding something that works for you and then believing in it. He wants to win every game and he wants to save every puck and when it doesn’t happen you feel that pressure and I think it turned against him early and now I think he’s using it to his advantage.”

The negative effects of pressure and perfection showed in the stats. Through the first four games he had a 4.53 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage. In three of his first six starts he gave up three first-period goals.

“Early in the year there are some performances I’d like to have back and some games I’d like to have back but it’s a long season, right?” Turner said. “So you’ve got to try to get over those and get better and find ways to improve.

“It’s never easy. Any time you have a bad game or a few bad games it always takes a bit, you have to step back and take things in perspective and tell yourself there’s going to be a lot more games. You can’t dwell on those bad games because if you dwell on them it’s just going to carry over to other games. The more you get by those games and just stay positive, I think the better it is.”

Perhaps his most difficult series came the last weekend in October. In Milford, Conn., he picked up his first collegiate shutout in a 3-0 win making 29 saves. Turner should have been riding confidence and poise. Instead he gave up three goals on nine shots and was pulled after the first period in a 4-0 loss to Sacred Heart the next night.

Over the next seven games he got only two starts, losing the net to freshman Simon Hofley. Smith thought the healthy competition was key for Turner, who started to pull himself out of the slump. He started to look poised. He made big saves. His game management was sound. He fixed critical errors in playing the post that had haunted him early in the season, allowing opponents to score from below the goal line.

He got the call for back-to-back starts against Air Force and showed the strong game the Griffs believed was there all along.

“That’s something I’ve had, I guess you could say trouble with, early in my career and even this year,” Turner said of playing back-to-back games. “I think it’s just a matter of staying focused and not losing sight of what you’re trying to do.”

Turner said part of that focus was taking care of his body after Friday night’s game – riding the stationary bike, stretching, getting proper nutrition and hydration. Paying attention to those aspects of an athlete’s life made a noticeable difference for Turner.

“It’s something I overlooked earlier. In junior you don’t really play that many back-to-back so you’re not really thinking about it too much,” Turner said of nutrition and recovery. “You definitely feel a difference in your legs and in your body in general when you do the right things. I think I felt really good Saturday night and I give credit to proper preparation.”