Penguins' Sterling savors time in NHL


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This has been quite the whirlwind trip from the minor leagues for Penguins winger Brett Sterling -- and for reasons that stretch beyond the impressive point a game he has produced in the four he has played.

Other than two games in the New York area, both losses, Sterling is in the midst of a personal reunion tour with the added bonus of playing NHL games.

He played his first game after being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton against hometown team Los Angeles and had a goal in a 2-1 overtime win at home. He had an assist Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime road win against the Avalanche that took him close to his old stomping grounds as a former Colorado College standout.

Next up is a game Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in Chicago, where Sterling spent most of the previous four seasons playing for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

"I spend my summers there. I have a house there," Sterling said of Chicago after practice Friday at Southpointe.

"Pretty much every team we've played, except the New York teams, I've had a connection to. It's been pretty fun. I got to see some people when I played against LA. My mom [Terry] drove out for the game in Colorado, and in Chicago I've got a lot of friends and family."

Sterling is going to run out of teams and places so familiar, but that's fine with him, especially if his connection to Pittsburgh stays this tight for a while.

Despite two goals, two assists and power-play time in four games, his stay with the Penguins depends to a large extent on which injured players get healthy and how quickly. None are expected back in time for the Chicago game.

"It's day to day," Sterling said. "You enjoy every second of it because you're in the NHL. There's no better place to be. And not only are you in the NHL, but you're on a Stanley Cup championship team [from 2009] and in a great organization.

"If I'm here today and gone tomorrow, that's unfortunate for me, but I've had a blast while I'm here, and, hopefully, I can stick around as long as I can and for years to come."

Sterling, 26, signed a two-way contract with the Penguins as a free agent in the offseason after spending his first four pro seasons with Atlanta. The Thrashers drafted him in the fifth round in 2003, but, in the yearly struggle to add veterans and push for the playoffs, only gave Sterling a look in 19 NHL games, none last season.

He had a strong training camp with the Penguins but was squeezed out in a numbers crunch. He got shipped at the start of the season to Wilkes-Barre, where he had 18 goals and was tied for second on the team with 39 points in 46 games before he was summoned Feb. 9.

Sterling has an obvious knack for scoring -- he exceeded 30 goals twice at Colorado College and three times with the Chicago Wolves, topping out with 55 -- but opportunities might have come more slowly because of his size: 5 feet 7, 175 pounds.

Even Penguins coach Dan Bylsma took a good-natured jab at Sterling's stature. While talking about the stellar play of 6-4 center Jordan Staal, Bylsma noted that Staal "may look like a man among boys because I'm playing him with Sterling and [5-8 winger Chris] Conner."

Sterling doesn't flinch.

"I don't feel like my size is that big of a hindrance," he said. "It would be great to be three inches taller and 25, 30 pounds heavier."

That would make him roughly the same size as Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

"But if I haven't grown anymore at this point, it's not going to happen, and I feel great out there," Sterling said. "If people want to count me out because of that, that's fine. My goal is to prove them wrong if they feel that way."

When Bylsma turned more serious, he talked about Sterling as a bulldog whose scoring opportunities have sprung from his dogged pursuit of the puck.

"The thing not to be overlooked about the way he's played ... is how he's gotten [that point a game], the battle level and the tenacity with which he's played, the work ethic in the corners and on pucks," Bylsma said. "That's really been the big part of how he's played. It's probably allowed him some more opportunities, some more ice time, continued opportunity on the power play -- which he's cashed in on with some goals and some plays

"A lot of it has been his work ethic and battle despite his diminutive size."


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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