In 2001-02 Sterling led the USA National Under-18 team in goals with 29, and helped the team to its first ever gold medal. He also led the team in goals in the U18 tournament.
A teammate of Thrashers prospect Colin Stuart at Colorado College, Sterling led all WCHA rookies in goals and goals per game in 2002-03. Sterling ranked fourth nationally in scoring among freshmen in 2002-03 with 1.06 points-per-game, and earned WCHA All-Rookie Team honors.
Played for the USA WJC team for 2003-04, earning a gold medal. Scored three goals in the tournament.
Sterling scored 28 points in 30 games as a sophomore for CC. He finished third in scoring for the Tigers, missing the first part of the season due to an injury.
Sterling was a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2004-05 and a top 10 finalist in 2005-06.
2006-07: He won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as AHL Rookie of the Year, having topped rookies and placed fourth in the league in scoring with 97 points in 77 games. He led the league in goals with 55 and was the league’s first rookie to do so since 1989. Sterling accomplished his high output playing on a very good line with league MVP Darren Haydar and Jason Krog, but both were out of the Wolves lineup at various points and Sterling kept on scoring without them. He was also MVP of the 2007 AHL All-Star Classic, playing with different linemates.