AUSTIN, Minn. – Nico Sturm and Jake Kielly were teammates in Austin during the 2014-15 NAHL season. Sturm, a big-bodied forward from Germany managed 54 points in 66 games with the black-and-gold that season. Kielly, the Minnesota native, on the other hand, was between the pipes helping to propel the Bruins into the postseason with the fifth-highest goals-against average in the league at 2.12.
A year later, Sturm and Kielly would remain teammates but instead of donning the black-and-gold of the Austin Bruins, they sported the black, purple, silver, and gray of the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. At the end of 2015-16, the pair of Bruins-alums hoisted the Clark Cup as champions of the USHL. That season, both Sturm and Kielly chose their collegiate-level schools and the pair selected to become members of the Clarkson University Green Knights. It would be the third team, in three years, in three states, for the pair but one thing remained the same throughout those locations and leagues, they always shared the locker room with one another.
In college, their careers continued to blossom. As a junior, Sturm was named team captain of the Green Knights. He led his teammates to an ECAC Championship with a bid in the NCAA tournament. To go with his on-ice accolades, Sturm was named as a semi-finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. His teammate Kielly? He too was honored with a national award nomination, being named a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, given out annually to the best American collegiate goaltender.
After three very successful seasons competing for Clarkson, the NHL has come calling. For the first time since 2014-15, Nico Sturm and Jake Kielly won’t be teammates, but it’s not every day you get the chance to sign an NHL deal. For Sturm, he’s inked a contract with the Minnesota Wild, only an hour-and-a-half north of his one time home in Austin. Kielly, on the other hand, is going north of the border, signing a deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
Sturm and Kielly enjoyed playing together and coincidently when the time came for them to sign NHL contracts, despite going to different countries, the news of their signings came down on the same day. For the Bruins, and the NAHL on the whole, it’s exactly the kind of good news that’s liked to be heard. In one day, the Austin Bruins doubled their alumni in the NHL from two to four.
Before Sturm and Kielly, two Austin Bruins alumnus to have stepped foot onto NHL ice, Christian Folin and C.J. Smith. Interestingly enough, it was the Minnesota Wild who scooped up Folin when his time in college had come to an end. That was nearly five years ago and since then, Folin has played in over 230 NHL games with an additional 41 in the American Hockey League. For C.J. Smith, he’s competed in over 140 games between the NHL and AHL with 103 total points and climbing.
The NAHL has improved vastly in quality of play in the past decade, and players like Sturm and Kielly are examples of the betterment. For the Austin Bruins organization, there’s an apparent impact on players wearing the bear-crest.
While speaking to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Sturm talked about his time in Austin. “Smalltown America. Blue collar. That’s who I am and that’s who I’m going to be going forward.”
It’s more than culture or tradition, it’s a way of life. As current Bruins attempt to gain scholarships and sign those commitments, they see guys wearing the same numbers as them getting deals in the NHL. It puts things in perspective. That though this town is small, that this location seems stuck in the fields, the things being taught and learned right here at Riverside Arena can help make an NHL player.
The Austin Bruins organization wishes the absolute best to Nico Sturm with the Minnesota Wild and the same to Jake Kielly with the Vancouver Canucks. Their hard work and dedication not only makes the organization an fans proud, but shows current and future Bruins that the NAHL is certainly the league of opportunity and Austin is the best place to nurture that culture.