Every hockey team needs a strong group of leaders to be successful. Penn State has its influential voice in the locker room in James Robinson, its calming presence on the ice in Peyton Jones and its top playmaker in Denis Smirnov.
As important as each of those roles is the Nittany Lions’ spark plug, their emotional catalyst and energizer: Andrew Sturtz.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky has come up with a number of descriptors for Sturtz, most affectionately “pit bull” for his aggressive playing style. It’s when Sturtz is at his most bullish that he’s most valuable to his team, Gadowsky believes.
“Obviously the goals he scores are extremely important, but more important than that is... when he’s him, it’s incredibly uplifting to the team,” Gadowsky said Monday. “His value is way greater than the goals he scores because of how he plays to get them.
“He’s just an extremely infectious player. When he’s ‘Sturtzy,’ the whole team seems to gain 20 pounds.”
Gadowsky added that Sturtz’s energetic nature on the ice helps lift his teammates to the same level.
“When he’s going out there and sacrificing his body and bumping into people and flying over people, no one has an excuse to take it easy,” he said.
Sturtz willingly — sometimes bordering on happily — joins the battles in the corner for possession of the puck. He will lay his body on the line to block a shot, then lower the shoulder on an opponent who may not expect a 5-foot-8 top-line player to throw a heavy hit.
If the notion that doing the little things right leads to offense, Sturtz is the embodiment of that. When he inevitably gains control of the puck during one of his high-octane shifts, there’s as good a chance as any that he’ll wheel his way around the offensive zone, toe drag the puck around or deke his way past a defender and fire a laser of a wrist shot toward the top corner of the net.
When he’s not picking corners from the top of the circle, however, Sturtz can almost certainly be found on the lip of the goal crease, doing his best to screen goalies several inches taller than him and waiting for rebound opportunities to fall at his feet.
The Buffalo native’s almost incomparable skill set and penchant for getting to the dirty areas of the ice have allowed Sturtz to quickly climb the Lions’ record books. With two goals through four games this season, Sturtz sits at 42 goals in his blue and white tenure, just three tallies away from tying the program mark of 45 held by another Lions legend, Casey Bailey.
Even with his three points in four games and a pair of road wins in environments that make it difficult for the road team to come out on top, Sturtz still sees room for improvement in his game this season.
“I didn’t think I played that well the first weekend,” he said. “I thought I caught a second gear last weekend and hopefully I can just keep amping it up.”