Last week’s Pittsburgh Penguins development camp featured a special guest instructor with numerous ties to the organization. Germany’s men’s national team head coach and former NHLer Marco Sturm was on the ice working with the team’s prospects as he continues his education in the coaching world.
During this past season Sturm did a tour meeting with some of his national team players who play in the NHL, like ex-Penguins, now-New York Islanders forward Tom Kuhnhackl. He also kept in touch with Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin and Director of Player Development Scott Young and was eventually extended an invitation to help out at development camp. (More Sturm/Penguins connections include once being teammates with Penguins assistant Mark Recchi when the pair played for then-Boston Bruins and current Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.)
Three years ago Sturm, 39, was hired by the German Hockey Federation to run the men’s national team, the first step in what he hopes will someday help him land a job behind an NHL bench. This past February he guided them to a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
“We all have goals. I always had a goal as a player and nothing’s really changed now as a coach,” Sturm told Pro Hockey Talk last week. “Now I can see it again being around with an NHL club, it’s a lot of fun. I’m still young, I’m still learning a lot. My goal is to maybe come back here in the States and to work and coach a team in the future.”
We spoke with Sturm about his influences, the lack of European NHL head coaches and how Germany’s silver medal in Pyeongchang has helped the sport in his home country.
Q. When did you know you wanted to get into coaching?
STURM: “I never wanted to be a coach, that’s for sure. I finished my career and we were still in Florida because of my kids, we didn’t want to move again. So we said OK, let’s spend another year in Florida, then all of a sudden it was six years. My son is playing, my kids were playing, so he got me into a little bit of coaching. I coached [with] the Florida Jr. Panthers and then after 2-3 years I got the call from [German Ice Hockey Association President Franz Reindl] to coach Team Germany.”
What coaches made the biggest impact on you during your playing career?
“I probably took the most out of him because I had him the longest, it was Darryl Sutter. He really showed me and taught me with hard work and a lot of discipline how to be successful in this league. He was a really good mentor for me and I learned a lot. Other guys, Claude Julien, I had him for four years. He kind of is a little bit old school, too, like Darryl. I like that he was very fair and also with the assistant coaches we had [in Boston] with Geoff Ward, [Craig] Ramsay and Doug Houda. Those were the guys who stuck out to me the most.”
Did you receive any interest from NHL teams after Pyeongchang?
“No, not serious conversation because I went right back, I had the World Championship coming up [in May]. We were talking at the draft to a couple of teams. But I want to take my time, too. I’m still so young, I want to learn. I love my job right now, but maybe in the near future something comes up.”
There have been only two European NHL head coaches. Why do you think that is? Why are teams so hesitant to go in that direction?
“I think there’s probably a little bit more risk than hiring maybe a guy from over here [North America]. Could be the language, but every GM has those kind of connections and worked with someone before. Most of them aren’t overseas. To hire someone from Europe, I think there’s a little bit more risk to it and maybe that’s why people just glad to take someone they knew before.”
When you took over the German program, what did you do right away to start to implement your ideas and change the culture?
“The first camp we had, even the players didn’t know where they were at. I tried to change a lot of things and that means putting a structure in place [with] what I think is going to be successful in the future and also having that core group go along with it. I had some huge help from my players. Even in the youth program, I put a new structure in place. The guys now are playing the same way I want to play or I’m playing with the big guys. Also, treat the players the right way. I think there was always that era in Germany that maybe they didn’t know. But I’ve been around some good hockey players and good organizations, so I’m trying to treat them the right way like they’re supposed to be.
“It all came back to me. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of excitement from my players.”
How will the “PowerPlay 26” program help German hockey moving forward?
“I think in the little guys, the young age group, you can tell already there’s more kids coming up. It’s going to take time, right? We know it’s going to take 10 years. But it’s working. It’s a long process, but I like goals. Like I have goals in my coaching career, now I do like the way the organization has put that ‘PowerPlay 26’ together. We have a lot of work to do but I think it’s a good start. We tried to do our best, especially in tournaments like Olympics or World Championship to have a good result in the end. That, of course, helps getting more kids involved in the great sport of hockey.”
Since Pyeongchang what kind of reactions have you seen in the German hockey community?
“Right away. We came back and I think our lives changed a little bit, not just at home. We got recognized all over Germany, so that was nice. The media was great. We had a nice push there because it was not just about soccer. We talked about hockey and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it was like that. Also the most important is we had thousands of kids actually signed up right after in those different clubs to learn to skate and wanted to be hockey players. That’s a good step — little steps, but it’s a good step to get more kids involved. We try together with the [Deutsche Eishockey Liga] clubs to get more kids and develop kids and coaches to have a better program in the future.”
What’s next for you and the German national team?
“We always have our Deutschland Cup. It’s a big tournament in November. But during the season I added more camps for young kids. I’m trying to push those young kids more and more into our game because that’s the way everyone is going right now. You can see it in the NHL. Our goal at the next World Championship, we want to finish in eighth place. Why’s it important? Because the top eight, they go automatically to the next Olympics. That’s going to be huge for us. We’re on that eighth spot right now, so we don’t want to get to the qualifying tournament again. We know how hard it was, so it would be nice for us to finish the season with No. 8.”