T?NISVORST, Germany — Marion Stützle places a large cardboard box on her dining room table.
It says “TIM” on one side and it’s stuffed with mementos from her son’s earliest days in hockey.
Dozens of keepsakes from a minor hockey career that helped lay the groundwork for NHL stardom.
Wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt, Tim Stützle settles into a dining room chair and sorts through the clutter.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve looked at this stuff,” he says, eagerly turning the pages of his U10 yearbook and flashing the same smile that is evident in many of the childhood photos that spill out of the box and begin to cover the large wooden table.
Each item evokes a fond memory, brightening the room on an overcast, cool May morning in Stützle’s childhood home. Staring at a picture of his 8-year-old self, he breaks into a wide grin.
“I don’t think we lost a single game until I was 10 or 11 years old,” Tim says, recalling the double-digit margins of victories that were commonplace.
Marion’s favorite memory, however, is not stored alongside the other keepsakes in the box. It’s tucked away neatly inside her own memory, bringing equal parts pleasure and pride.
Fortunately, she also has the moment captured on her phone.
It’s a video of her 4-year-old son skating around pylons dressed in jeans and a grey sweater. From a very young age, Tim was adamant he would join the local hockey team. To do so, however, he would have to attend a skating school, something he was sure he didn’t need.
Marion wanted her only child to be assertive, so she told Tim to go present his case.
“I tried to teach him at a young age to be independent. You need to support your kids, but they need to do things for themselves. They need to take responsibility,” says Marion. “So I said, ‘There is the coach. Go ahead.’ And he marched down with his skates and he told him, ‘I want to play hockey.'”
Today, Tim Stützle is on the precipice of superstardom in the National Hockey League.
At 21, he’s one of the next generation of young stars in a league that is constantly seeking gifted, dynamic and marketable talents. Stützle, a sturdy 6 feet and 187 pounds, has plenty of hockey skills (39 goals and 51 assists last season attest to that) and an engaging personality, which completes the package.
But from his earliest days, Stützle was also a model of impatience.
“He had to be convinced that he needed to start with the skating school,” his first coach, Peter Kaczmarek, recalls of the 4-year-old he met that day at the rink. “This was difficult for him to accept. … He said, ‘If I don’t join the team now, I’ll go to inline hockey where you can play right away.”
It took a little convincing, but eventually young Tim relented. Kaczmarek remembers the first time he showed up to the rink and started putting on his full equipment.
“He asked me if he could train in jeans because he believed he could move better in them,” says Kaczmarek.
Eventually, the youngster ditched the denim for the traditional undergarments worn by hockey players, and in the years that followed, Stützle developed an insatiable appetite for the sport. Wearing roller blades, he would patiently wait for his dad, Martin, to return from work so they could play spirited games of ball hockey on the driveway.
When Tim was on his own, he practiced shooting. As his technique developed, errant pucks would sometimes bounce off the white camper trailer that sits in the front yard.
He became the consummate rink rat, too, often staying late to practice with the next team hitting the ice — even if they were older kids.
“He would always ask me, ‘Mama, can I please stay?'” Marion says. “So I would just sit there in the restaurant. Sometimes for four hours.”
Those extra practices helped fast track his development. By the time Stützle was a teenager, he was regularly skating with players who were up to five years older.
“And they were drinking beers afterwards in the dressing room and I was just 14,” Stützle says.
Tim Stützle exudes confidence in virtually every area of his life. Except parallel parking. “I hate doing this,” he says.
Stützle is being ultra cautious because he doesn’t want to scrape the rims on the Mercedes convertible he’s borrowed from a friend for the three-hour drive from Mannheim, where he spends most of his summers. After a failed first attempt left him too far from the curb, he neatly tucks the car into a tight spot in the heart of downtown Krefeld, the city that borders his childhood hometown and is only a 30-minute drive to Germany’s western border with the Netherlands.
Tim and Marion have selected one of their favorite Italian restaurants as the backdrop for a conversation about the delicate balance between hockey and education. Over an appetizer of beef tartare and chilled glasses of Chardonnay, the conversation starts to flow freely. When she speaks, Marion’s English is nearly flawless, her language skills aided by her stint as a flight attendant for Lufthansa when she was younger.
She’s outlining the one simple rule Tim had while growing up.
“If you don’t do your homework, you’re not going to practice,” she says.
“I was always scared about not being able to practice,” Tim says. “If they told me ‘You’re not allowed to play video games for a week,’ it would not have bothered me at all. But taking away hockey was a big deal.”
By his own admission, Stützle says he was a “class clown,” often sitting in the back row and cracking jokes with his friends. He says he was never reprimanded or suspended, but he did accidentally break a teacher’s glasses with a tennis ball during a game of baseball in gym class.
His indifference to education, though, was often a source of tension.
“I didn’t really like school. And I didn’t really think I needed school,” Stützle says. “But my parents, they always wanted me to have an education. So we had a lot of arguments about that.”
“We had a lot of discussions about that,” Marion interjects.
And then Stützle left home to pursue hockey as a 15-year-old. Numerous junior programs aggressively tried to secure his rights, bombarding the family with recruiting pitches via e-mail and phone calls.
“It was hard. But we knew this would happen at some point,” Marion says. “It was so crazy. So many teams tried to get him. But Mannheim was the only team that respected our privacy. They were the only team that left us alone.”
In Mannheim’s junior program, Stützle’s game matured and he grew into a bona fide NHL prospect. But even as the 2020 NHL Draft drew closer, Marion and Martin wanted to make sure their son had fallback options.
“My parents did not care if I was good at hockey. All they cared about was school,” Stützle says. “And what if I got hurt in my entry-level deal? I needed some education.”
And so the family was ecstatic when Tim decided to commit to attend the University of New Hampshire to play college hockey. As eager as Marion and Martin were for this turn of events, their excitement paled in comparison to that of UNH head coach Mike Souza.
“We thought we had someone who was an automatic program changer. Like Cale Makar when he went to UMass,” Souza says of the current Avalanche star defenseman. “He was going to come in here and catapult our program to a place where we wanted it to be.”
Stützle instantly fell in love with the UNH campus during a tour of NCAA schools in the northeastern part of the United States. He knew what he wanted — and just as importantly, what he didn’t want. On a visit to Boston University, for example, he did not like how crowded the campus Starbucks was.
“You couldn’t even move,” he says. “If I was going to go away to college, I wanted to go to a smaller place.”
Souza knew that after Stützle watched a pair of hockey games at the UNH’s home rink, he could convince the youngster to commit. “UNH has a true campus feel,” Souza says. “And I think that appealed to him.”
Stützle accepted the school’s athletic scholarship offer in January 2018.
“We just loved Mike Souza,” Marion says. “And we thought this would be a great option for Tim.”
But during the 2018-19 season, Stützle started to have doubts. He had watched Moritz Seider — a longtime friend who was a year older — opt to play his draft-eligible year with Mannheim in the German Elite League. The move to play against professional men paid off for Seider, who was taken with the sixth pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Stützle realized he could get to the NHL by simply staying in Mannheim.
So in late June 2019, he backed out of his commitment to UNH and signed a professional contract with Mannheim.
But he didn’t know how to tell Souza.
“So I told my adviser, ‘Can you call Mike Souza for me and tell him I don’t want to go there,'” Stützle recalls. “It was such an awkward situation.”
But when his parents caught wind of his plan, they intervened. Just as Marion had made her 4-year-old march up to his first hockey coach, she wanted her son to take ownership of this situation as well.
“We told him he had to make that call himself,” Marion says. “It’s about responsibility.”
And so while they were on a family vacation on the German island of Sylt, Stützle left his grandparents, cousins and parents downstairs and went up to a private room to call Souza.
“I know that call isn’t easy to make when you’re 16 or 17 years old,” Souza says. “I was respectful and wished him nothing but the best.”
Stützle spent his draft-eligible 2019-20 season with Mannheim, scored 34 points in 41 games against adult competition. He drew rave reviews from teammates and displayed maturity off the ice that made him one of the favorites inside Mannheim’s locker room.
As evidenced by a call Marion got partway through that season.
“They said Tim is always staying out late to pick up the pucks after practice,” she recalls. “And they told me Tim is helping carry bags to the bus. And Tim always makes sure to say hello to the cleaning staff and that he’s so polite. So I said to myself, ‘OK. This is all working out fine.'”
Tim also impressed opponents in the German Elite League, who were shocked by his game-breaking talent. One of those opponents was Munich forward Chris Bourque — who also happens to be Souza’s brother-in-law. During that 2019-20 season, Souza remembers Bourque telling him, “If you had this kid, I think he would have won the Hobey Baker for you in his freshman year.”
“Yes, Chris,” Souza recalls telling his brother-in-law. “That was the whole point.”
The top of the dresser in Tim Stützle’s bedroom inside his parents’ home is lined with memorabilia documenting his meteoric rise in the hockey world.
There is the trophy he captured as the best forward at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton.
The three pucks from his first NHL hat trick in Winnipeg are neatly encased in glass.
The most eye-catching item, however, has nothing to do with hockey. It was placed on top of the dresser by Marion. It’s a framed 8×10 piece of paper with a message she hopes her son adheres to as he enters a new stratosphere of superstardom in North America.
“Keep your eyes on the stars. And your feet on the ground.”
It’s a mantra that should come in handy this fall, as Stützle plays the first season of his new eight-year contract that will pay him $66.8 million.
“We raised him like that. We told him, ‘Be respectful and be humble,'” Marion says.
Marion wants to ensure her son remains grounded because she knows all too well the impulsive decisions that young adults often make.
She vividly recalls sitting on the sofa with her husband, Martin, when they were in their early 20s. They were fascinated by a magazine advertisement for a luxury camper. They fell in love with it and purchased it the following day.
“It was a mistake,” Marion says.
They needed a sizeable loan from the bank and their families refused to help, hoping to teach the young couple a lesson.
Marion and Martin had to take on extra jobs to pay off the debt over the next 18 months. The stress of trying to pay off the camper seemed to outweigh the pleasure they received from using it.
“We didn’t feel good about it,” Marion says. “And today, I wouldn’t make that same mistake.”
Their son, of course, is in a much different financial bracket. But that cautionary family tale about spending beyond your means has been passed down a generation. Money is to be treated with respect.
And for his part, Stützle is adamant that the richest contract in Ottawa Senators history won’t change him.
“For me, money doesn’t mean much,” Stützle says. “It’s the way I was raised. It was never about money. It was about trying to be a good person.”
And then he adds: “My only goal is to win a Stanley Cup ring.”
To that end, Tim says that a team-first mindset went into his contract negotiations with the Senators last fall. He signed last September and then proceeded to have a breakout 2022-23 season. Stützle exploded for 90 points and established himself as one of the most skilled and dynamic young centers in the game. Almost instantaneously, his contract was considered a bargain.
If Stützle had waited, he certainly would have had enough leverage to warrant a much richer contract. But that was never his motivation.
“Personally, I think if someone is making $10 or $11 million it makes it hard to win with the salary cap,” he says. “But with everybody making under $9 million in our young core, I think we have a really good chance to win. And the only goal I really have is to win a Stanley Cup with this group of guys.”
He knew he could have joined the league’s salaried elite and made north of $10 million with this new contract.
“For me, it wasn’t important if I made $9 million or $10 million. Making $8.35 million is still a lot of money,” Stützle says. “I just think it’s a really fair deal for both sides, you know? And that’s what I wanted.”
Stützle says he heard the whispers of people who were critical about his decision.
“People will say, ‘Why did he sign that early?’ But in the end, I think the fans are happy that I’m committed long term,” he says. “And I wanted to show commitment to everybody — the younger guys, too, like Sandy (Jake Sanderson). This group is special. I could have easily signed for three or four years and said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ But I’m just so confident that we’re going to be a good team.”
Not surprisingly, his mother offered some important perspective as he contemplated the deal.
“I said to him, ‘Tim, what more do you want than having a good team and lots of fans?'” she remembers telling him. “You’re going to have more money than you can ever spend in your whole life. Why do you need more?”
(Illustration: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic. Photos: Matt Zambonin / Freestyle Photography/Getty Images; Steph Chambers / Getty Images; Ian Mendes / The Athletic)