German sports fans love soccer. Specifically, they love the "Bundesliga", their national soccer league, which rivals any in the world in terms of talent.
They love Dirk Nowitzki, the Bavarian-born NBA star who last year became the first European-born player to win the league's MVP award.
And, according to Heiko Oldoerp, a Boston-based sports writer for the German Press Agency, if Germans were to choose a non-soccer, non-Nowitzki sports hero, it would be the Bruins' left wing Marco Sturm.
"After Nowitzki, he is No. 2," Oldoerp said.
Although Sturm may be No. 2 to Nowitzki, he's No. 1 among German NHL players, a list that includes former NHLer Uwe Krupp, Buffalo Sabres left wing Jochen Hecht, Ottawa Senators defenseman Christoph Schubert and Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig. He's already the highest-scoring German-born player and soon he will become the all-time leader in games played by a German player with his 730th career NHL game.
Although humble by nature, Sturm is aware of the implications of his accomplishments.
"Obviously there are not too many German guys that make it in the NHL," Sturm said. "I did it, and I'm still here, living the dream. I'm proud of that."
Sturm's popularity with the Bruins is beginning to rival his popularity in Germany, thanks to what he's done on the ice.
Since joining the team three years ago, he's become one of its most consistent scoring threats. He has broken the 20-goal mark in each of his last five NHL seasons, including his last two in Boston. He scored 29 two years ago and 27 last year, when he ranked second on the team in that category and he is well on his way to extending that streak this season.
In addition to keeping up his scoring pace this season, he's also improved defensively. According to Sturm, he knew he had the ability to be more of a two-way player, like he was earlier in his career with the San Jose Sharks. But he, along with the rest of the team, needed to rededicate himself to it.
"I used to be more defensive-minded; that was more my style," Sturm said. "But then I started to notice that I could score, so I wanted to go for more offense. But this year, we want to play good on defense first, and the scoring comes after that."
He's also been a key contributor off the ice, where he's become a leader to a team that relies on young players and newcomers to be successful.
Of the 26 players on the Bruins roster, 18 of them either played for another team or spent time in Providence last year. Of those 26, ten are 25-years old or younger.
A nine-year NHL veteran, Sturm has seen the positive effects veteran leadership can have on a team's dynamic.
"I think it's important," Sturm said. "You need veterans around to help the younger guys out and bring the team together."
Although Sturm's hometown of Dingolfing, which is in Bavaria, boasts the largest BMW factory in the world, his personality is less Autobahn and more quiet country road, according to Oldoerp.
The most important aspect of his life is his family, which consists of his wife Astrid, son Mason and daughter Kaydie. During the off-season, the family returns to Germany so it can be close to relatives, and Oldoerp believes that Sturm will return to Germany after his NHL career rather than remain in the United States.
Family might be the main reason Sturm returns to Germany in the off-season, but it also has more practical purposes.
"I'm a family guy, so it's nice to go home and see family," Sturm said. "But it's also nice not to worry about hockey for a few months."
Perhaps Sturm's only vice is soccer. Like his countrymen, Sturm is certifiable crazy about the Bundesliga, and might have been a professional soccer player had he not chosen hockey at an early age.
One of the perks of playing in the NHL is that training camp does not begin until the early fall. The Bundesliga begins in August, so Sturm has plenty of time to attend games of his favorite team, 1860 Munich, and root against Bayern Munich, German soccer's version of the New York Yankees.
On the rise
The NHL's popularity in Germany peaked in 1996, the year Krupp scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for the Colorado Avalanche. But it may enjoy a renaissance in 2010, when Germany hosts the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. One player who will surely enjoy some increased exposure is Sturm, who has competed in six international tournaments for his country and was the captain of Germany's 2006 team that competed in Pool B.
He also represented Germany in both the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games and was named to his third Olympic team in 2006, but could not participate because of a shoulder injury suffered during the NHL season.
Whatever he accomplishes then or in the near future with the Bruins, the ever-humble Sturm chooses to reflect on it when his career is over and not now, when there is so much work to be done.
"Right now it's still early," Sturm said of his career. "When I'm done I can look back at the stats and what I've done in my career and hopefully it's going to be something special."
This article is just one of the features you will find when you pick up Black and Gold: The Boston Bruins Official Game Program, the next time you attend a game at the TD Banknorth Garden.