Pasadena's Brett Sterling, a former Los Angeles Kings fan, gets to play against them
Left wing Brett Sterling, one of four players the Pittsburgh Penguins called up from their farm team for Thursday's game against the Kings, had a huge smile on his face when Kings broadcaster Nick Nickson approached him in the team's locker room Thursday morning.
Nickson has that effect on people, to be sure, but Sterling's elation was special: He grew up in Pasadena listening to and watching the Kings, and to see their broadcasters at the Consol Energy Center was like a little bit of home.
"Friends and family will be watching tonight," said Sterling, whose parents, Bill and Terry, still live in the house where he grew up. "It's fun. It's nice to play against them for the first time."
Sterling said he played for the Pasadena Maple Leafs for about nine years, in Westminster for a year and for the Junior Kings for two years before he left home at 16 to participate in the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was drafted by Atlanta in the fifth round in 2003 and signed with the Penguins as a free agent last summer.
He has two goals and four points in 19 career NHL games and is expected to make his Penguins debut Thursday. He had 18 goals and 39 points in 46 games for Wilkes Barre-Scranton of the American Hockey League before being summoned to help the injury-riddled Penguins.
Sterling, 26, said he was an avid Kings fan as a kid and grew up rooting for Wayne Gretzky, Tony Granato -- now a Penguins assistant coach -- Luc Robitaille and Bernie Nicholls. "All those guys. I watched them for years," he said. "I used to go to games all the time. So it's a pretty cool feeling."
"I played pretty much all my youth hockey in L.A. and watched it grow into what it is today, where they're producing first-round picks quite often."
Sterling is scheduled to play alongside Nick Johnson and Dustin Jeffrey, who were his minor-league linemates in about 15 games. That should make the transition easier for him Thursday.
"Johnny's a big strong kid. He's leading our team in goals in Wilkes Barre," Sterling said of Johnson, who had 20 goals in the AHL. "He's a great player. And you look at what Dustin's done in the minors and here, he's a great player. It's comfortable. You're not thinking out there, 'I’ve got to get the puck to a Crosby or a Malkin. I'm with guys I know. Just play your game."
Sterling said he still occasionally hears jokes about being from California.
"Every once in a while people ask me if I know how to surf or skateboard or any of those things, which I don't know how to do either," he said. "I spent all my time in an ice rink. I never had time to learn to do that stuff.
"Nowadays you look around at how many guys there are from California and other states that are not real familiar with hockey -- so people think. It's just a great thing, and I love being one of the guys from California that's been able to make it so far, and hopefully more and more kids will be coming."
-- Helene Elliott in Pittsburgh
Photo: Kings logo. Credit. Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times.