“We love Marco. He comes to play every night and is fun to be around. He has leadership capabilities,” Sharks coach Darryl Sutter said of Marco Sturm in 1999. “That's not something you teach. It's natural. He loves to play, we need three or four more like him. Clones."
That’s all you need to know about Marco Sturm: Darryl Sutter wanted 18 of him.
Marco Sturm is most famous in NHL lore for being part of the Joe Thornton trade. While Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau were functionally useless for the Bruins, Sturm became one of the most beloved Bruins in recent memory.
He posted 193 points in 302 games in Boston black and yellow, and scored two memorable game-winners for the Bruins: one against the Canadiens in the 2008 playoffs, and the overtime winner in the 2010 Winter Classic against the Flyers. But before all that, he was a Shark, and he was beloved.
Sharks GM Dean Lombardi whiffed in historic fashion at the 1996 NHL Draft when he selected Andrei Zyuzin with San Jose’s second overall pick. He followed that pick up by trading both of the Sharks’ second round picks to move up to 21st overall. With that pick, he selected Marco Sturm, a speedy winger playing for Landshut in the German DEL.
Born on September 8, 1978, in the Bavarian town of Dingolfing, the 17 year old Sturm was the youngest player selected in that year’s draft. Eager to break the mold of “soft, enigmatic European” that plagued so many mid-90s Euro draftees, Marco Sturm learned English purely so that he could conduct all the pre-Draft interviews without a translator in the room.
Sturm spent the 96-97 season in Germany, which was expected of him. Invited to camp for the 1997-98 season, the Sharks brass figured that Sturm would need a year in the minors to acclimate to the North American game’s smaller rink and more physical nature. Instead, he made the team. After being scratched for the first two games, Marco Sturm scored on his first professional shot.
“It was a dream for me,” he said after the game. I am not making that up (Sorry, Tomas Hertl!) Across a 74 game rookie season, Sturm would score 10 goals and pot 20 assists. It was a promising beginning.
The unheralded part of Sturm’s game as a Shark was his raw physicality. A phenomenal skater who was incredibly quick in a straight line, Marco Sturm confounded expectations by demonstrating a willingness to chase the puck into corners and check men much larger than his own modest 6’0’’ frame. And Sturm was remarkably durable in the early part of his career — through his first six seasons, Marco never played fewer than 74 games in teal. Asked about Sturm in 1999, Jeff Friesen said of his 20-year old linemate:
“You look at him, he plays our system to a T. He thinks defense first but when he gets opportunities offensively he's very creative and makes smart solid plays. He's younger than me, but I look up to him, too."
The success, like the goals, came along in bunches. Sturm was named an All-Star in 1999 to pad out the Team World roster. He was no prodigious scorer, but Sturm was a stalwart on the Sharks’ second and third lines throughout his early twenties. He scored 16 goals in 98-99, 12 in 99-00, 14 in 00-01, and 21 in 01-02.
As a 23-year old in that 2001-02 season, he worked his way up to the top line and played on the left wing alongside center Vinny Damphousse and right wing Teemu Selanne. Other times he was asked to play center on the second or third line. “I'm thinking more offense, more shots,” Sturm said of his new top line winger role. “If I go back to center, I'll probably think more defense. Right now, it's just a lot of fun.”
The Sharks exited the 2002 playoffs in a devastating game seven loss to the Colorado Avalanche. (Thanks, Teemu Selanne.) Marco Sturm broke camp for the 02-03 season looking to prove that he could take the next step and establish himself as a legitimate threat in the NHL. The rest of the Sharks decided NHL legitimacy was not a priority of theirs.
The team was putrid that year, costing Coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi their jobs. Meanwhile, Sturm was excellent: he scored 28 goals in a breakthrough season, and played his butt off in every game even as the Sharks languished in the cellar.
The Wilsons, placed in charge of running the new-look 2003-04 Sharks, (GM Doug and head coach Ron) rewarded Marco with a contract extension and a raise. It paid off: playing chiefly (but not exclusively) on Patrick Marleau’s wing, Sturm had another phenomenal year.
He was second on the team in points and the Sharks sat atop the Pacific Division when disaster struck on March 5, 2004. Playing in Denver, the Sharks dumped the puck into the Avalanche zone and Marco Sturm pursued the puck. He won the footrace against Avs d-man Adam Foote, negating the icing call, but on his last stride Sturm accidentally stepped on Foote’s stick. "We were just going for the puck. I think he tried to jump over me and I tried to hold him up,” Foote recalled. “It's just a freak accident." Unable to halt his momentum, Sturm hit the boards with full-force and broke his left leg. No Shark fan who saw that broadcast will forget the injury.
"None of us wanted to play that game once he got hurt," Sharks forward Scott Thornton said. "It's tough to refocus."
It cost Sturm the remainder of his season. He had to watch from the press box as San Jose made a miracle run to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Then the lockout hit, and Sturm went back to his native Germany and spent the lost 04-05 season playing for ERC Ingolstadt. Fully healed, Marco Sturm broke training camp in September 2005 with the Sharks eager to take care of unfinished business. Playing on the Sharks’ top line with Marleau and Milan Michalek, another speedy European winger, Sturm started the season with a six-game scoring streak. Ron Wilson observed on October 19, 2005:
"He and Patty (Marleau) really drive the engine, so to speak. If they're going, it seems everyone else falls into line."
But no one else fell into line. The Sharks lost games at an astounding rate. They found themselves in the Pacific Division cellar. On November 26, Sturm scored for the first time in 12 games, but the Sharks blew a 6-5 lead late to Detroit and lost 7-6. Four days later, along with Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm failed to dress for the Sharks’ game against Dallas. It had happened:
Joe Thornton was a San Jose Shark. Marco Sturm became a Boston Bruin. To the extent Mike O’Connell and the Boston Bruins got anything out of the worst hockey trade of the 21st century, Marco Sturm was it. He continued to put the puck in the net as a Bruin, and did so long after Primeau and Stuart were shipped off to Calgary for peanuts. Sturm scored 27 goals in each of his first two seasons as a Bruin, and the sheer joy he exuded after each goal became a meme (#SturmFace) among the Bruin faithful. Along with Marc Savard and a young Patrice Bergeron, he brought a glimmer of hope to a rebuilding Bruins team.
Then the wear-and-tear caught up. Keep this in mind: Marco Sturm had been playing balls-to-the-wall hockey against much bigger men for ten seasons. He was concussed a few games into the 08-09 season, missed 12 games, came back, and promptly tore his ACL and missed the remainder of that season. In 09-10, Sturm returned and scored 22 goals in 76 games, leading the Bruins in goal-scoring. He netted that Winter Classic winner, too. The Bruins were finally a contender that year, and looked to make a deep playoff run. 21 seconds into Game 1 of the Semifinals against the Flyers, Marco Sturm tore his ACL and MCL. He missed the rest of the playoffs. The Bruins blew a 3-0 lead in that series and watched as the Flyers went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
That second knee injury marked the effective end of Marco Sturm’s career as a productive, full-time NHLer. He was traded to the Los Angeles Kings while rehabbing his knee injury in December of 2010. This was especially cruel: it meant he wasn’t there to watch the Bruins team he had helped to revitalize lift the Stanley Cup that spring, and it meant he had to wear a Los Angeles Kings jersey. He scored 5 goals in 17 games as a King. In a hilariously boneheaded move, Dean Lombardi waived Sturm to gain roster flexibility before the trade deadline. He expected no one to claim him and for Sturm to return to the Kings’ top line after the deadline. Instead, the Washington Capitals swooped in. Whoops!
Sturm closed out the 2010-11 season with the Capitals, scored a goal for them in the playoffs, and then signed with Vancouver for the following season on the advice of fellow German (and fellow ex-Shark) Christian Ehrhoff. The very impatient Mike Gillis gave Sturm six pointless games in a Canuck uniform, then traded him to Florida. He finished the 2011-12 season with the Panthers, scoring just three goals in 42 games.
Then Marco Sturm went home to Germany. He played the 2012-13 season with the Kolner Haie, then hung up his skates for good. He is currently coach and GM of the German National Hockey team, which means he gets to boss around a whole bevy of former Sharks: Marcel Goc, Christian Ehrhoff, and Thomas Greiss all play for him. Pretty good work, if you can get it.
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