While Andrej Sustr’s road to the National Hockey League might seem unorthodox, every decision he has made since the age of 17 has gotten him on the right track to not only succeed in his respective sport, but in all aspects of life.
Playing hockey in the Czech Republic, it did not take Sustr long to recognize that the leagues offered at home might not be the right fit for him.
“I was playing for my hometown team and I wasn’t getting as much playing time as I thought I should,” Sustr said. “I decided I’d go play in the States, worst case scenario I’d play in that league and learn the English language.”
Seeming like a pretty drastic move, you would never guess from his demeanor while talking about the experience. Rather, it was more like the obvious choice.
From there Sustr decided on Alaska and the North American Hockey League (NAHL), which again was an interesting route to follow. Finding a perfect fit in his host family, Sustr was taken under their wing. And surprisingly enough, picking up English was not the most difficult part of his venture across the world, it was actually playing hockey in Alaska.
“Learning the language was easy for me, but playing in Alaska was definitely a little bit different than playing in the States,” Sustr said. “It was colder than I was used to; there were some long road trips too. I remember the bus ride to Fairbanks. There was a snow storm and it got a little scary at times, but it’s definitely something I’ll always remember.”
Playing for the Kenai River Brown Bears (NAHL) of Soldotna, Alaska in 2008-09, Sustr recorded eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 36 games.
Sustr’s travels only got easier from there because of those first experiences in Alaska. He went on to play in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and then attended the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he was given a scholarship to attend.
“I was never drafted,” Sustr said. “I didn’t have to try out for the USHL and then in college I felt guys were trying to achieve in their careers by getting degrees. I thought I’d get a degree and have something to fall back on.”
Yet as his numbers increased, he nearly doubled his numbers as part of the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) with 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) in 50 games; it seemed less and less likely Sustr would need to fall back on a degree anytime soon.
With three years under his belt at Nebraska-Omaha, where he notched 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 111 career games, Sustr was going to go pro.
Since the beginning of the season, head coach Jon Cooper has spoken in high regards about the towering 6-foot-8 frame’s potential, but he was not the only one, at least 20 NHL teams had an interest in Sustr at one point or another. Yet, according to the former Nebraska-Omaha Maverick, the Bolts were the perfect fit.
“The whole process with Steve Yzerman definitely made the difference,” he said. “I also knew Cooper from the USHL and I was following [Radko] Gudas and [Ondrej] Palat.”
Teammates Gudas and Palat are fellow countrymen as well.
“I was paying attention to what those two were doing and I was seeing how much opportunity the younger guys were getting as far as playing time,” he continued. “That was something I was definitely attracted too and helped make the choice for me to come here. I’m really happy with my decision and I just want to make the most of it.”
Sustr is definitely making the most of his situation, surviving the final cut at training camp and earning valuable minutes right out of the gate to start the 2013-14 campaign.
But he has not forgot about the value of an education, Sustr is still currently working on a degree in sociology, while making his NHL dreams come true.
“I have to balance the time I have off,” Sustr said. “You definitely have to put time into it and be dedicated. It’s kind of nice to keep your mind sharp with all the studies.”
The season and his career are still young for the now 23-year-old, though if he sticks with it, he could graduate with a degree in the next two years.