Zack Stortini: Not Just a Hockey Player An Academic Too!

A familiar face for Oilers fans is still much loved despite being a regular fixture on the Barons' roster. Photo by Rob Ferguson

Bruce McCurdy and I couldn't believe our luck, that we would be able to speak with Stortini when the Oklahoma City Barons played the Abbotsford Heat February 18th in the Calgary Saddledome was something special for both of us. Of course it was too bad that Zack Stortini had not been picked up by another NHL team, but I was glad that he remained a part of the Oilers' organization. This is the last year on Stortini's contract and the Oilers didn't say why they sent Stortini down. They have surprised some by not calling him up with the current injury situation, and very few people are pencilling Stortini into next year's line-up.

Stortini is eager to speak and on any subject and so I took the opportunity to ask Stortini a few more questions when I arrived in Oklahoma City. Much like Bruce's interview, this was like a conversation with a buddy. Stortini has a way to make you feel comfortable and completely at ease. You can start out on a serious note, or with the intentions of keeping everything professional, but it suddenly goes out the window once he starts speaking. That's not a bad thing. Stortini is a considerate man and obviously a beloved teammate. We couldn't go very long without players saying goodbye to Stortini as they walked by, or trying  to rough him up a little. 

So, it was after a 3-2 victory on February 25th, including a goal by the one and only Stortini over the San Antonio Rampage that I was able to talk to Stortini and thank him for scoring the goal I asked him for the week prior in Calgary. 

Copper & Blue: Thank you for scoring that goal for me, it was a week late, but still much appreciated.

Zack Stortini: Ya I know, I apologize but I finally got it, better late than never.

Copper & Blue: Yes, you had a great game tonight how do you feel?

Zack Stortini: I think it was a big team win. It's a good feeling to be a part of that and contribute offensively. Getting that goal definitely felt good and more importantly we won the game and got two very important goals in this playoff race.

Copper & Blue: How would you characterize yourself as a hockey player; an enforcer, a fighter, an agitator, or just a player? Do you place a lot of merit in any description?

Zack Stortini: I think I'm just a pretty hard nosed player and I definitely have the ability to make plays out there and play the game of hockey. I think that I'm very physical and I bring, definitely a very physical aspect to the game where I'm able to get on the forecheck quick and force defencemen to either turn the puck over or have a big hit against them. I try to take pucks to the net and create offensive chances that way not only for myself, but for my linemates as well. I try to be reliable defencively as well. I think that I'm a fairly intelligent player and that I know the game of hockey and how to read certain situations and know what to do. Sometimes it calls for fighting to stand up for a teammate or to get our team going. Other times it just requires a hardnosed effort in winning a battle along the wall or making a good defencive play or scoring a goal.

Copper & Blue: Speaking of your physical play, is there anything that you are doing now to ensure that you will have a long and healthy career? I'm reading Bob Probert's book right now, physical play is extremely difficult and taxing on a body, are you trying to be consciously aware that you are very hard on your body?

Zack Stortini: Absolutely I think it's very important to stay physically fit. I pride myself in my work ethic; I work extremely hard both off and on the ice. There is a lot of development that has come with off the ice training whether it be in the gym cardio wise, on the bike of running, plyometrics for quick feet. I spend a lot of time doing that as a bigger guy just to get quicker. Strength wise too, I think I'm still a young guy and I have room to grow. I still haven't hit my peak yet and I want to be as big and strong as I possibly can. I always continue to work on all of those aspects. I try not to leave any stone unturned. We have a great coaching staff here with tremendous resources and I spent a lot of time with Rocky Thompson [assistant coach] who is helping me hone my fighting skills. He's very talented and he's a great coach. He's pulled me aside to work on things like that with me. Same goes for Nally [head coach Todd Nelson] and Gerry [Fleming, assistant coach] they both are willing to work with me to get better, giving me the opportunity to play a penalty play role and helping me to develop my game and be an asset that way.

Copper & Blue: And how about flexibility, is that an issue or concern?

Zack Stortini: [laughs] Knock on wood, no, my flexibility is pretty good. I'm definitely no gymnast or anything like that but I make sure that I am stretched out, that my muscles are loose and well taken care of. Nutrition is a big part of it too. I make sure I'm eating right to have the correct body type to play the game of hockey. I think that for the role that I have, there's no easy shift so its very important that I am in shape am ready to go each and every shift whether it be a lot one night, or not so much another night. I'm always prepared both mentally and physically.

[O'Marra: good job on the goal!]

Copper & Blue: So you're not on the hot yoga wagon yet?

Zack Stortini: You know what, I have tried hot yoga, yes.

Copper & Blue: It's hard!

Zack Stortini: It's hard ya, the heat kind of gets to you. And all of those yoga poses...

Copper & Blue: I can't do the tree pose to toe stand.

Zack Stortini: You got me beat, I don't even know the names! I'm looking over at the person next to me to figure out what to do. I think I'm up for trying anything that will make me better and improve me as a player it's also important for me to continue to work and get better. I'm making sure I'm not leaving any stone unturned, whatever I can do to get better I'm going to do.

Copper & Blue: So do you see yourself more as a veteran at this point of your career? Helping with the development of the younger players as well as your own?

Zack Stortini: I think I'm in a situation where I'm in between. There are guys that have been in the game a lot longer than I have and I look to them to see what they've done and I can always learn from both young guys and more experienced guys. I'm always talking to guys

Copper & Blue: You talk to people? Really?

Zack Stortini: [laughs] Sometimes, when they can understand me! At the same time too, guys are always coming to me to ask about various situations that they find themselves in. I'm always there for a teammate no matter what it is and I think that you can never stop learning, you can never stop developing. The day that you do is the day that you're done. So, I'm always working not only on my hockey game but also on myself as a person too.

Copper & Blue: How important is it having that good guy in the locker room? For example, we hear all of the time how Jason Strudwick is amazing in the locker room.   

Zack Stortini: Ya, he is.

Copper & Blue: How important is that to you as a player?

Zack Stortini: I think it's huge. It's very important that we have a cohesive group and a group with good chemistry. I think that it makes a big difference. You see teams that have all of the talent in the world and just can't quite seem to pull it together. Then you see other teams that you don't see going that far, and then they surprise everybody. A lot of the time, its just having a great group of guys and guys that are having fun coming to the rink and enjoying each other's company and want to play together. I think it's a long season, it's a grind and it's hard. People are trying to knock you down and take things away from you. If you have the support of your teammates it makes a huge difference. I've been blessed to have some great teammates throughout my career. You mentioned Jason Strudwick, he's definitely one of them. He's always been there for me and I can't thank him enough for everything he's done. He's a great role model and I try to do the same for my teammates too. I think that we're very fortunate here that we have a great group of guys and I enjoy coming to the rink every day to see these guys [Shawn Belle enters, hits Stortini from behind goofing around not realizing that Stortini is doing an interview. Belle sees me and seems slightly embarrassed] except for Shawn Belle. [laughs] No, all of the guys are awesome and they make it fun to come to the rink every day.  We have a lot of fun together for sure.

Copper & Blue: What about on the other side then, somebody bad? Have you been in the situation where, the term we always hear is cancer, have you been in that situation?

Zack Stortini: It's very rare that you come across something like that in the hockey world. You hear horror stories from guys that have played with guys that are cancer and I've played with, maybe a handful, it's a small group of guys that are like that for the most part everybody's a great guy. I'm not one to mention any names or anything like that.

Copper & Blue: Is it more of a situation where complainers are more likely to complain, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and that's why we hear about these things then?

Zack Stortini: [laughs] Ya, it's a rarity that you hear about guys like that but it's no different than any other job or walk of life. There are guys that aren't the easiest to get along with to be politically correct. There are a lot of guys that are great, and then a handful that are ah...

Copper & Blue: Rough?

Zack Stortini: Ya, well when you're speaking like this, when you're speaking with the guys, you use some less politically correct words

Copper & Blue: I work in the oil and gas industry, I'm well aware of how men can speak.

Zack Stortini: You know what I'm talking about then. Maybe put it between the lines, people can figure out how I feel about certain kinds of people.

Copper & Blue: You were very happily involved with the Edmonton SPCA, you did a lot of charity work and were a big figure in the community. I've heard stories about the kids on your street that you would play street hockey with. They miss you terribly.

Zack Stortini: That's nice, I miss them too. I was very fortunate that the city of Edmonton welcomed me with open arms. I spent a lot of summers there in the off season, I made it my home. My fiancée has a job there I really enjoy being a part of the community; they support the Edmonton Oilers so much. I felt it was very important for me to give back as a way to say thank you for all of the support I've been given, a way to say thank you to all of the people who have been supportive of me. I think that I'm able to have that extra time to spend with different societies in Edmonton and I can't thank them enough for including me with their plans.

Copper & Blue: Do you have any plans to return, to keep making it your home in the summer?

Zack Stortini: Right now I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm just looking to make the most of my situation down here. When the dust settles at the end of the year, I'll figure out where everything's headed. Right now to look more than one day ahead is too far in the future to worry about.

Copper & Blue: For a while you were being called Huggy Bear, you heard about that didn't you.

Zack Stortini: Yup.

Copper & Blue: Now these were people that didn't have NHL fighting experience,

Zack Stortini: Yes, there's always going to be critics not everybody likes everyone and obviously some people aren't my fan and don't appreciate what I do and I don't much care. They are usually people that don't understand the game of hockey and don't really know what's going on. I think I've worked extremely hard to work on changing my fighting style and becoming more aggressive. There are times when I've been jumped and first and foremost you have to protect yourself. There are times that I've been on the initiative and guys have done the same thing to me. It's a thing that maybe being at this point in my career and being a young guy, maybe being outmatched by ten years and a few pounds and a few inches by a few guys, I was feeling my way through the league and like I said, I've had a lot of help throughout my career to develop my skills of fighting. I think I've continued to work develop with the help of Rocky Thomson here just to become a better fighter, to throw harder and heavier. I'm always going to continue to work on that. That's something that is going to continue to get better and better.

Copper & Blue: You've had two penalty minutes so far in the AHL, are you sneakier, are the refs more lenient do you think?

Zack Stortini: No the referees have been great, they do a great job. They have respect for me, and it goes both ways. They do a great job down here and they're great communicators. I've had the opportunity to speak to more than one of them. There is nothing that a player likes more than knowing what's going on and having that feedback from the officiating and they do a great job of that. I can't thank them enough.

Copper & Blue: We noticed that you were the 2 time all academic with Sudbury ..

Zack Stortini: I think it was three times.

Copper & Blue: Oh! Three times? Please correct me!

Zack Stortini: [laughs]

Copper & Blue: I'm a big fan of the academics, how did you manage that?

Zack Stortini: I just, luck of the draw... naw, I'm kidding.

Copper & Blue: Hey, I'm lucky not smart.

Zack Stortini: I was the only kid on the team that could read so it was an automatic default that I won. No, no, no. You know it's something that I pride myself with. I work hard at everything I do whether its school or hockey.  My parents always made sure that I had something to fall back on. The old sayings to make sure that you have your education and a backup plan. It's something that I took fairly seriously and prided myself in getting good marks and being well educated. I still continue to take courses when I can, in my spare time and in the summer. I'm a big fan of reading and staying up on current events. There is a lot of interesting things happening and I have a few things that interest me that I like to read up on. It's always been a part of my life.

Copper & Blue: I will make sure I tell Bruce, he will be excited to hear that.

Zack Stortini: Ya, and I won the year before too, when I was in tier two, so that was four years in a row.

Copper & Blue: Excellent!

Zack Stortini: I was thinking about going NCAA or OHL and it was between the two decisions I guess. When I ended up getting drafted to my home town in Sudbury, I ended up choosing the OHL route. I think that it fit my game a little bit better with the physical play. Obviously you play a lot more games and being able to play for the Sudbury Wolves, a team I grew up watching in my home town was a great opportunity. Speaking with Bert Templeton who was the coach and GM at the time about what he had envisioned for me and being able to play for him was a great opportunity with all of the knowledge that he had.

Copper & Blue: So looking back then, any regrets about not going the NCAA route?

Zack Stortini: No, not at all. I think that I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity to do both, but I don't regret anything. That's for sure.

Copper & Blue: So what would you have taken then? Now I'm curious and hearing paging Dr. Zack or Zack the vet.

Zack Stortini: [laughs] Naw, I wasn't that good. I was a mid eighties student. I definitely liked the maths and sciences. I think that if gym class was the only class I could take, or shop class whether it be auto or woodworking I would enjoy the hands on thing. The maths and sciences were a strong suit for me, but English [gasps] you know, maybe not so much. I'm a math and science guy, gym class loved it and the shop experience was definitely a lot of fun.

Copper & Blue: Well thank you so much Zack!

Zack Stortini: You're welcome, nice to see you out here. 

***

I may not have been able to be as vocal of my support for Stortini/Zorg as Bruce, but I have always admired his work ethic that I think is beyond apparent from watching games. Stortini was willing to fight anyone and everyone no matter how he matched up size or experience wise. It was obvious that Sortini has worked extremely hard on his skating, his fighting and his overall game. It's frustrating to see that he is now playing in the AHL once again, struggling and hoping to be back in the NHL. 

 

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