Sustr Focuses on Big Picture After Reassignment to Syracuse

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite being sent to Syracuse for more ice time, Andrej Sustr hasn't seen much game action.

The 6-8 defenseman, hurt on his second shift since being reassigned by the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this month, practiced with the Crunch Tuesday. After missing five games, he is nearing a return to the lineup.

“It’s been pretty good,” Sustr said of working his way back into game shape Tuesday. “I’m aiming for this weekend.”

With Syracuse on a five-game losing streak, the addition of Sustr is a major shot in the arm to a struggling Crunch defense that has surrendered 23 goals in the past five games.

“His puck moving ability, his skating ability -- he will help us,” said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.

Sustr got his first taste of the National Hockey League last season, when the highly sought-after free agent signed with the Lightning out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He was a plus-one over two games before being assigned to the Crunch for its Calder Cup run.

The Czech Republic native played in eight regular season games and all 18 postseason contests for the Crunch, tallying 10 points for the Eastern Conference champions.

That postseason experience, as well as his offseason work, helped the 23-year-old make the cut in Tampa during training camp last fall. The rookie was in and out of the lineup, but registered seven assists and was a plus-four over 38 games.

“It was a little bit of a surprise for me, but I was really happy,” Sustr said of making the Lightning. “I worked really hard in the summer for it and it definitely paid off for me.”

Without consistent ice time and the Tampa Bay blueline getting healthy, Sustr wasn’t surprised that he was being sent to Syracuse to see more ice time.

“I saw it coming in a way,” Sustr said. “You can’t really think about stuff like that. (Keith) Aulie was getting healthy, and I saw we had nine guys up there.”

Sustr sees the big picture, and knows he will play his way into a full-time role in the NHL sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s the best decision for me, as far as my development goes,” Sustr said. “I’m definitely not taking it as a demotion. I’m taking it as an opportunity for me to grow.”