LANDSHUT, Germany – Marko Sturm, the German record holder in NHL games and points, held his retirement farewell event on Saturday in the Bavarian town of Landshut where his professional career had started 19 years ago.
5,500 fans filled the Eisstadion am Gutenbergweg to watch the World Stars beat the Landshut Friends 9-5 in the farewell game labelled “Marco sagt Servus” (“Marco says goodbye”). Sturm played for both sides and scored one goal for each team before the game clock stopped with 39 seconds left for a standing ovation for the man with the number 39. He left the game, thanked everybody on the ice and saw his jersey being lifted to the arena’s roof with his family and the who’s who of German hockey on the ice.
The Landshut Friends included legends who once wore the jersey of the local team such as Udo Kiessling, the Abstreiter brothers and Czech goalie Petr Briza.
Kiessling, who played his last season in Landshut when Sturm was a 17-year-old rookie, remembers the early beginning of Sturm’s career well.
“When Marco came to our senior team in 1995 his development wasn’t foreseeable. Nevertheless, his talent was recognizable already then. It’s not self-evident that such a young player makes the team straightaway,” Kiessling said. “Marco has for sure been a door-opener in the NHL for other German players.”
The World Stars included Slovak star Zdeno Chara as well as former and current German national team players such as Christian Ehrhoff, Marcel Goc and Jochen Hecht, who made the step to the NHL after him.
“Marco is a great guy on and off the ice. It was a big honour to be invited to his farewell game,” Chara said.
Sturm played two World Junior Championships, three U18 European Championships and became a regular scorer in the top Germany league when he caught the eye of NHL scouts, eventually leading to the San Jose Sharks drafting the Dingolfing native 21st overall in 1996. After two seasons in the top men’s league with Landshut, Sturm had his NHL debut with the Sharks as a 19-year-old and impressed immediately. He played for the Sharks during eight seasons before being traded to Boston in 2005 alongside other players in exchange for Joe Thornton. He remained successful with the Bruins until 2010 but less so in his last two injury-plagued seasons with Los Angeles, Washington, Vancouver and Florida.
Sturm played more NHL games than any other German-trained player, 938 in the regular season and 68 in the playoffs, and scored more than any other German logging 242 goals and 487 points in regular-season play.
For the German men’s national team Sturm played 54 international games notching 14 goals and 24 points. He represented his country in three Olympic Winter Games (1998, 2002, 2010), four World Championships (three in the top division) and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
The 35-year-old winger played his last NHL games during the playoffs in 2012 and had a short stint in his native country with 17 games for Kolner Haie in the spring of 2013 but it wasn’t until this year when he officially announced his retirement as a player.
At that time he said his batteries were empty and he wouldn’t be able to give the 100 per cent needed.
“The last years were hard years for me with the many injuries. That’s why I decided to quit,” he said in his closing remarks on the ice. “Leaving hurts but now I’m looking forward to a new chapter of my life.”
Sturm wants to spend more time with his family in Florida where he continues coaching in youth hockey including the team of his son Jason.
– with files from Landshut Eishockey