Zack Stortini, wearing #24, dons the baby copper and blue with the Barons this weekend. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
When it was announced this week that Zack Stortini was placed on waivers, and eventually assigned to the farm club in Oklahoma City, the love/hate relationship that Oil Country had stomached for years finally emerged with a fury. It's not that Oilers' fans don't love the guy, it's just that he hadn't given them a reason to champion his blue-collar work ethic within a season that was riddled with injuries to key players, and very little winning. There are some that believe that Stortini's in the wrong place, at the wrong time as he resides in a league where even third and fourth liners are expected to produce offensively. Yet, some understand the role of a feisty checker/enforcer, even when this breed is a dying commodity in the NHL. Whichever side of the fence you teeter towards, the demotion of Stortini to the AHL still seemed slightly perplexing (Jacques stays?). And who knew that Zack Stortini of all people was a kind of polarizing player amongst Oilers most faithful followers?
Stortini'a entrance to the Barons lineup isn't without some question marks. He adds a +1 to the already full veteran roster in Oklahoma City. However, Coach Nelson and GM Bill Scott, have plans of sitting a few each night to insure that Stortini gets his time on the ice. Eventually, it was Shawn Belle and Marc Arcobello that would sit for night one, and night two. Although, with trade deadlines looming, it's hard to imagine that all Barons will be reserved a spot on the roster through the remainder of the season, as a slow march to the playoffs begins.
In a strange twist, the Barons play two home games this weekend against the Peoria Rivermen, who are a rough and tumble sort of bunch that pounds opponents into submission - including the Barons this season. With some strangely bizarre wintry weather hitting Oklahoma, Stortini mangled his affairs in order, and headed to the farm club for Friday's game. He'd also travel to Cedar Park, Texas to play the Stars.
His first two games were up to the Stortini par. He would twice play alongside Matt Marquardt and Ryan O`Marra on the grinder line, and was seemingly unforgettable until he wasn't. He often found himself neither contributing nor taking away from his new team. However, his hard hitting bubbled to the surface a few short times which were reminders of his potential, but quickly he went back into his shell.
For a brief moment, during a ten round shootout on Friday night, I thought we'd see Storts trot out, and prove the naysayers wrong, and win a thriller. Instead, he was ignored in the sequence by Coach Nelson who clearly wanted to take it easy on the guy, who'd only been there for less than 24 hours.
Now wearing number 24 with the Barons, Zack Stortini probably feels the weight of the demotion more than anybody else. However, his attitude seems positive. Whilst in the bowels of the Cox Center on Friday night, a few diehards watched as the team entered the arena. In the distance someone shouted, "Welcome to Oklahoma" to which Stortini replied "It snows here?" A classic line from a guy that neither lived up to his Laraquein hype as an enforcer, nor as a rushing, strong forward.
As Oklahoma City fans entertain their newcomer, Stortini will find his place within the lineup. Moreso, he'll have to sit and wait in the AHL while he finds his place within the Oilers organization.
He certainly will be a nice piece to have in the Barons lineup as the eventual playoff run begins. Yet the fray of uncertainty for Stortini at this moment has to be daunting after playing in the better part of four straight seasons for the big club. As they say, the show must go on, and for Stortini we'll find out what he's made of. Will he remain the staccato - unconnected, separated, detached - or will he summon the stamina to better himself, and prove that he can still be a cog in the Oilers wheel of mayhem. For a guy that works hard and upholds teamwork, Barons fans are hoping for the latter.