Sterling is a rookie pro with the Chicago Wolves, and he has scored 35 goals in 37 AHL games. Sterling, 22, is a Californian who helped the United States win the world junior championship four years ago. The Atlanta Thrashers picked him 145th overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft. He's only five-foot-seven so wasn't highly regarded in the old club-and-grab days.
He's yet to get a call-up because the Thrashers had forwards Darren Haydar and Jason Krog, who have NHL experience, stationed with the Wolves at the start of the season. He'll get his chance some day soon, which is something Wolves GM Kevin Cheveldayoff isn't necessarily looking forward to.
"He's one of the those guys who, once he gets called up, he might never be back," says Cheveldayoff.
Sterling is skating on a line with Toronto-born Haydar, who leads the AHL with 79 points, and Cory Larose of Campbellton, N.B., who took over when Fernie, B.C.-born Krog was summoned by the Thrashers.
"He had the knack in college and put up good numbers and his transition to pro has been very good," Cheveldayoff said of Sterling. "He's picked up on the things you need to do to be a successful pro."
Coach John Anderson saw to that from the get-go. Sterling's work ethic and natural scoring ability do the rest.
"He's a very gutsy player," says Cheveldayoff. "He's willing to stand in front of the net and to dodge into openings and take a hit to make a play.
"He's short but he's stocky and very solid on his skates. I've been very, very impressed with the physical abuse he takes but still comes back night in and night out to play hard. He's one of those kids who has an eye on the prize and is willing to come to work every night to earn it."
Sterling could not have landed with a better team to further his career. Cheveldayoff and Anderson teamed up in Chicago 10 years ago and few other pro organizations - AHL or NHL - can match their success. They steered the Wolves to the Calder Cup title in 2002 and they won they twice won the Turner Cup as champions of the now-defunct International Hockey League.
Cheveldayoff, 36, had his pro playing career cut short by a serious knee injury after five seasons. The native of Saskatoon was captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings when he played defence in junior hockey. He was a first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders, but that knee injury rerouted his path in the sport.
Anderson, 49, had a 10-year NHL career as a forward, mostly with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Wolves had what was for them a sub-par season last winter but they are back on top this season, challenging the Norfolk Admirals and the defending-champion Hershey Bears for first place overall.
"We have a lot of new players who have come in and players like Haydar who have provided a tremendous amount of leadership," said Cheveldayoff.
The Wolves are strong down the middle with Larose, Steve Martens of Gatineau, Que., and Derek McKenzie of Sudbury, Ont.
Six-foot-seven Slovakian Boris Valabik is one of the biggest defencemen in hockey, and Ottawa-born Fred Brathwaite and Saskatoon's Michael Garnett provide standout goaltending for the Wolves.
Meanwhile, Mike Pandolfo, the 27-year-old American who is the younger brother of Jay Pandolfo of the New Jersey Devils, leads the ECHL in goals with 26 in 29 games with the Trenton Titans.
Brent Kelly, 23 of Kitchener, Ont., led the Central Hockey League with 23 goals in 28 games with the Arizona Sundogs.