Brett Sterling was cut by the U.S. National U20 junior team.
No, he wasn’t dropped from the team--that would have been really painful. During a pre tournament practice with the team, the puck rolled on its side and came off a teammate’s stick directly at Sterling’s face, slitting his lip and knocking out two teeth. That evening, he faced over five hours of dental work to replace the teeth and stitch his lip. Sounds painful, but worst of all was the fact he’d have to miss his team’s exhibition game against Sweden.
I first met Brett at the USA-Sweden exhibition game in New Glasgow before Christmas. We stood together in the press box while he kept track of faceoff wins. He also filled me in on some of his teammates. “Nice hit! That guy’s a beast.” He was friendly, approachable, and even though he was in the press box high in the rafters, it was obvious that his heart was with his teammates on the ice.
Today I meet Brett in the lobby of his team’s hotel. They have just arrived in Halifax after advancing to the playoff round from their group in Sydney. Sterling has been back in the lineup and has two assists in three games. His injury isn’t affecting his game, and he now wears a full face shield to prevent any further injury. He has not been with a set line thus far, switching between linemates like Parise, Guyer, O’Sullivan and Tallackson. He also gets power-play time where his role is to stand in front of the net and create havoc and dig for the rebounds. His personal goals for the tournament are just to play hard, work on his defensive play, and of course, win gold. The road leading to Halifax has been one of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and support.
Sterling credits his parents, William and Terry, with allowing him to follow his hockey dream, a dream not common to many in their native LA in a time before Gretzky helped popularize the game in California. He started skating at two and a half years, and playing hockey at four. He recalls waking up at 4am to go to practice. Or, while playing on summer teams, waking at 1am when his parents drove an hour and a half to practices out of town.
Terry recalls being told by Jack White, a Hollywood hockey consultant, that a young Brett could be a star one day. Brett was four years old. It’s been a tough road for his parents. His dad says that although they fully support the decisions Brett has made, it’s been hard seeing their son only a few times a year. But both he and Terry feel it’s been the best thing for him. He’s continued his education and they feel all the guys he’s met through the development program are “just an absolute joy to be around. They rely on each other.”
Sterling has had success at every level he’s played, both personal and team. He led the Under-17 team in international points in 2000-2001, was the leading goal scorer for the U.S. National U17 team the same year. In 2001-2002, he led the national U18 team in goals, with 29, and helped his team win its first gold at the 2002 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
An honours student, Sterling has moved from school to school while following his hockey dream. He is also a participant in the highly-regarded National development Team program in Michigan, which supplied the U.S. team with several players for the U20 in Halifax including Ryan Kessler, Greg Moore, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Suter and, his roommate of the past three years, Mark “the Beast” Stuart.
The program includes a routine of going directly from school to practice where for three to four hours a day he works on skating, weightlifting, and conditioning. The players who attend become, in Brett’s words “a band of brothers,” spending two full years together, away from their families and bonding with one another and their host families.
When Brett was injured, it didn’t take long for his parents to receive a call from his host family in Michigan, looking for details, concerned for their adopted son. William and Terry also keep the host family updated on the tournament via e-mail. Sterling is currently enrolled at Colorado College and is studying business. As his dad says, “If he’s offered a contract, he’d like to be able to know what he’s signing.”
This year Brett is eligible for the NHL draft. His dream would be to play for his hometown L.A. Kings. He played for the L.A. junior Kings in bantam, and midget hockey and would love to be the first to come back and play for the pro team. But he is a very grounded young man. Both he and his parents say if it happens, it happens. And after meeting Brett Sterling and his family, you can’t help but think that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.