Andrew Sturtz is an absolute war horse.
Ever since arriving in Happy Valley two years ago, the Buffalo, New York native has stolen the hearts of every single Penn State hockey fan. In fact, he's turned heads all throughout the NCAA and currently finds himself under a national spotlight as a 2018 Hobey Baker award candidate, the most prestigious individual honor that a college hockey player can earn.
But the way in which Sturtz demands attention isn't because he enjoys basking in limelight; it's instead amassed through the coupling of his dynamic, "pitbull-like" play style and his focus on being the best leader he possibly can, even if that doesn't mean juicing up his stat sheet (which he also does, by the way).
“I try to lead in more of an emotional way, rather than just being on the ice,” Sturtz told the Centre Daily Times after Penn State dropped a needed conference win to Ohio State 5-1, a game in which he was slammed with a five-minute major and game misconduct -- the first of his career. His absence was irrevocably felt throughout the duration of that loss, as the Nittany Lions couldn't motivate themselves even if they lit a firecracker underneath them.
But with that tiny smudge on his collegiate record aside, Penn State wouldn't have the reputation it does and wouldn't be anywhere the type of team it is if Sturtz wasn't leading the charge every night. His barreling, tenacious approach has been in effect since day one, and there's been a notable shift inside Pegula Ice Arena since his first game in Happy Valley.
Just look at some of the accolades Sturtz accumulated in his freshman season back in 2015-16:
- Appeared in 37 games, led the team in goals (18), and finished third in points (27). Those 18 goals were fifth-most in the country by a freshman and second most scored by a Nittany Lion in the varsity era.
- Tied for the team-lead with three short-handed goals.
- Was second on the team in game-winning goals (3) and led the team in unassisted tallies (4).
- Notched seven multi-point games and three two-goal games.
- Had three point streaks of three games or more with a career-best five-gamer.
- His first collegiate goal was named NCAA's No. 1 Play of the Week against AIC as part of a two-goal game. He then added a game-winning tally the following day for a three-goal weekend.
To any sports fan, these sort of laurels aren't usually what you'd expect from a first-year guy on a brand new team, but Sturtz paid no attention to what was typical and played completely out of his mind the entire season. That's just who he is.
In his sophomore stint, Sturtz would go on to lead Penn State in goals scored for a second consecutive season with 22, tying the Lions single-season record. In Penn State's Big Ten Tourney run and first NCAA tournament berth, he also made some noise on the stat sheets with a career-high three assists during a 4-3 victory against Minnesota in the Big Ten semifinals and a goal and two assists in a 10-3 win against Union, respectively.
“He’s just a goal-scorer, man,” says Coach Guy Gadowsky. “The guy just scores, from everywhere. I can’t figure it out. He’s a special player.”
The 2017-18 season has been no different as he builds toward completing the trifecta. Sturtz leads his teammates with 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists), which is nine clear of the next guy up, Brandon Biro, with 26. Nationally, the junior cracked the top-10 in scoring at No. 9 in the NCAA point leaders standings, which if you're a college hockey nut, means he's currently outscoring big names like Denver's Troy Terry and Notre Dame's Jake Evans.
Sturtz just placed that puck between the snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies on the top shelf.
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) October 15, 2017
The drop in production Penn State sees whenever Sturtz takes a penalty or gets a game misconduct, like we saw with Ohio State, is catastrophic. His skill set is so unique and is superbly difficult to replace. Whenever he's not on the ice, the team tends to play like it's stuck in molasses and doesn't present its normal high-flying flare.
In the beginning of the season, when the Nittany Lions dropped a puzzling loss in the second leg of their series with AIC, Sturtz didn't register a point. In Penn State's first series with Michigan back in October, Sturtz tallied a goal and an assist in its overtime win in Game 1, but didn't play in Game 2 due to an injury -- the Lions went on to lose 5-2. This is a common theme among any time Sturtz misses from the ice, whether it be the injury bug or minutes spent inside the box. When he's out there crashing around and setting up scoring chances, Penn State is a better team. Full stop.
If the Hobey Baker voting closed today, Sturtz would be dropped from the running, but he's easily the most valuable asset on this Penn State team. After just about every game, win or lose, Gadowsky has been known to mention his name as one of the key cogs in the team's effort, excitedly praising the way he performed that evening.
“Sturtz is an infectious player,” Gadowsky has gone on to say. “When he’s Sturtzy, the team seems to gain 20 pounds.”
What might be the most impressive aspect of Sturtz's game isn't a screaming slap shot or fancy skating ability like most other high-profile players around the country, but instead his willingness to slam against the ice, collide into the boards in order to make a play, or finesse his way around the defense with flawless stick work to create just enough space to fit a puck into. He's ridiculously fun to watch.
At 5'8", 185 lbs., he's no monster ready to destroy guys with his stature, but somehow, someway protects the puck with his body better than just about anyone around the league. He's constantly sacrificing himself in an attempt to lead his team to victory and flashes some of the best mittens at the college level. After finding a lane to take him to the slot, that's when the elusive dekes come out. He's got a one-track mind: score, score, score.
It's easy to make comparisons to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist or former NHL-er Danny Brière -- guys who thrive in the dirty areas, have a bottom-heavy body structure, and relentlessly try to make plays any way they can. You can also draw similarities to Columbus Blue Jacket Artemi Panarin, a guy who's 5'11", 168 lbs. and basically impossible to knock off the puck despite his size.
Even with all the aforementioned recognition, Sturtz has yet to be drafted unlike some of his teammates, though who knows, that may change after this year with the Hobey Baker nomination bringing to light his successes. He also still has his senior season to impress NHL scouts. Over the summer, he got invited to showcase his worth at the Penguins development camp. Training alongside the two time, back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, as well as with Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the entire game of hockey right now, surely can’t hurt his chances. Finally, he’s getting some recognition.
Sturtz's ceiling has the possibility of being slightly higher than that of former sniper Casey Bailey, who's currently launching rockets on net for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders. I'd fully expect Sturtz to bounce back-and-forth between the AHL and NHL as he develops throughout his future professional career.
Until then, we as a fanbase need to relish the time we have left with him, because he'll be climbing the pro ranks very soon. Players like Sturtz, with his natural leadership and skill, come few and far between. Hockey Valley will likely never be the same without him.
Note: Sturtz's freshman stats are courtesy of GoPSUSports.