At this stage of his hockey career, Wolves left wing Brett Sterling realizes how much his priorities have changed.
Sterling, the Wolves’ longest-tenured player, is winding down his eighth AHL season at 32. But after appearing in 30 NHL games — the last of which came with the St. Louis Blues during the 2011-12 season — Sterling has transitioned from chasing NHL dreams to being an elder statesman of a franchise he returned to after playing the last three years overseas.
Sterling now logs minutes in a league that, at its core, is about developing talent. Yet, after the Wolves locked down a playoff spot last month, Sterling tows the line between being the veteran who helps mold youthful talent around him and being the competitor who longs for another Calder Cup title.
“Every time you win a championship, everybody says you should be happy with what you have,” said Sterling, who won an AHL title with the Wolves in 2008 and captured Austrian Hockey League championships the last two years with EC Red Bull Salzburg. “And you are, but you want more.”
But how Sterling goes about reaching his goal is different than it once was.
Despite being the Wolves’ second-leading scorer all-time, Sterling has 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists), well off the pace set by Kenny Agostino’s 79 points. Sterling’s role is now more of a supportive one.
Although Sterling’s on-ice role isn’t what it once was, first-year coach Craig Berube has looked to veterans such as Sterling to help set the tone in other ways. Sterling still gets regular ice time and is part of the power play, but his leadership has gone a long way in getting his teammates all on the same page.
Coming off a season in which the Wolves finished under .500 for the first time in franchise history, Sterling serves as a constant reminder of the team’s playoff past.
“Having a guy that has experienced that and has won, it’s important for the younger guys to see that,” Berube said. “That competitiveness is what we really like.”
Sterling acknowledges that accepting a lesser role isn’t easy. But he knows if he doesn’t take what he’s given, it could mean the end of the road before he’s ready.
Sterling believes he still has a few years of hockey left. But with the playoffs ahead, he won’t concern himself with the end just yet.
“If you have a chance to get to the playoffs and make some noise, you don’t want to waste that,” he said. “Because you don’t know if you’ll ever be back there again.”
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