Oilers Stortini returns for second rookie camp

By Guy Flaming





Stortini Back For Another Round




On-ice sessions for the Edmonton Oilers Rookie Camp commence
on Friday the 10th, but players have begun trickling in over the
last several days.  Among the newest
arrivals is Sudbury Wolves captain Zack Stortini,
whose plane touched down in Oiltown on Wednesday afternoon.  It’s a trip that the towering
winger has been long anticipating.

 

“I’ve been so excited for this, I just hope
everything gets resolved with the CBA so I can go to the main camp but other
than that, I just look forward to coming out to Edmonton every year now,”
said the 6’4.5” 225 lb Stortini.  “Even though I’ve only been
there for a couple of weeks at a time, I’ve really enjoyed it both on and
off the ice.”

 

Stortini first appeared in Edmonton just days after he was drafted back
in June of 2003.  The Oilers held
their first ever Top Prospects camp that year in Sherwood Park, the same place this year’s
rookie camp will be run.  It was at
that first week of training with the organization that the third round
selection began making inroads into the organization.

 

Almost directly from the Prospect Camp, Stortini went to Regina to begin training
with power skating guru Liane Davis. 
The results were noticeable by the time the regular training camp rolled
around in September, a short two months later.

 

“I think I made a huge improvement my first
summer,” he said.  “(Davis) really
concentrated on my stride itself and on me becoming a better technical skater
and creating that base to build off of.”

 

The hard work paid off and during the 2003-04 OHL season,
Stortini was named in the top three positions of both the Hardest Worker and
Most Improved Player categories of the annual Coaches’ Poll.

 

“The area Zack has worked really hard on in the last
two years has been his skating and in that area I would say that Zack would
maybe go down as the most improved in all of junior hockey,” Scott
Norton, his agent, told Hockey’s Future recently.  “When he came into the OHL his
skating was something that people said ‘he has all the tools if only his
feet could get him there’ but now I don’t think people look at him
and think that he’s a bad skater. 
He’s got good hands that people probably didn’t recognize as
much the year before because his feet didn’t allow him to get into the
places to use his hands.” 

 

Stortini was back in Regina this past July for
another round of training and he believes the payoff will once again be
apparent.

 

“I really enjoy working with Liane
Davis, I just can’t say enough about how great she’s been for
me,” Stortini beamed. 
“This past summer we really worked on my lateral motion with turns
and pivots and things like that.  I
think it’s a situation now where you really have to look closer to see
the details of my improvement but I think that it’s definitely still
there.  There’s still a long
way to go, it’s not something that two years of power skating is going to
do it for me, I have to continue to work hard at
it.  I’m a big guy and so
it’s something that I’m always going to have to work on.”

 

Hard work and Stortini are anything but
strangers.  As a terrific epilogue
to a solid year with Sudbury,
Stortini hooked up with the AHL’s Toronto
Roadrunners for the final week of their regular season.  Not only did the 18-year-old play in the
final two regular season games, but he also suited up for the best-of-three
first round series against the Cleveland Barons.

 

“(Zack) played and
he played well; he was probably one of our best players in the playoffs!”
Head Coach Geoff Ward commented this summer.  “He’s got big size, huge
heart, he leaves everything on the ice for you every shift, he’s got no
fear, goes to the net with reckless abandon, loves to knock guys around on the forecheck and he’s pretty tough to move from in front
of the net too.”

 

If it sounds like
Ward was impressed, it’s because he was.

 

“He’s
got another year of junior but, boy oh boy, to be able to see him a year down
the road, after his performance in the playoffs for us last year, is pretty
exciting,” he continued. 
“His skating has improved a tremendous amount since we saw at training
camp last year with the Oilers, his confidence level certainly has improved,
and I think that knowing he can come to the AHL and perform at that level it
should spring board him into a big year in junior.  He’s a guy who everyone in the
organization is excited about based on how he played for us in the
playoffs.”

 

For his part,
Stortini says the experience with the pro club was every bit he hoped it could
be.

 

It’s
not every day that you get a chance to play pro hockey and see the lifestyle so
getting to play five games with the Roadrunners, which was such a class
organization, was a great opportunity,” Stortini said.  “It definitely was a good
experience and I was very fortunate to play.  I just worked as hard as I could each
and every shift and the coaching staff and the players welcomed me with open
arms and really made sure I was adjusting well to the situation.”

 

After some prodding, Stortini admits that he’s eyeing
the same opportunity again this year too.

 

“Obviously I hope to go as far as we can with the
Sudbury Wolves because, especially playing in my hometown, I’d like to
make a run at the Memorial Cup and I don’t think that with the team we
have this year that that is out of reach,” he began.  “That said, if something happens
where our season wraps up before theirs does, that
would be something I would enjoy, to be able to play for them again.”

 

When Hockey’s
Future interviewed Stortini in November of 2003, the Ontario native suggested that his biggest
goal for the season was to lead his club into the playoffs and that was a
target that he and the Wolves achieved. 
Not only did the Wolves make the post season, they took the formidable
Toronto St. Michael’s the distance before bowing out in game 7.  Along the way Stortini borrowed a page
from Mark Messier’s book on How to Inspire Your
Team and guaranteed a Sudbury
victory.

 

I
kind of did I guess, I was trying to be as straight forward as possible and was
just trying to get things going,” he said trying to dodge the topic.  “We had a great team last year and
the core guys coming back this year and that playoff experience from last year
should make us that much better this year.”

 

However, when pressed on the subject a bit more, Stortini
far from regrets the tactic and believes it’s in his job description to
stick his neck on the line to inspire his club.

 

“Well when word gets out you really
have the pressure on you to perform and I think that is something that’s
part of my job,” he admitted. 
“I’m counted on to contribute offensively and I’m glad
that I got the opportunity to do so for my team.  It’s important to make sure the
guys work hard every night and our coach does a great job of keeping everybody
motivated.  Mike Foligno
is a very demanding guy and he pushes us hard every day of game and practice.  I think every once in a while, as
captain of the team and especially for the younger guys, I have to give them
another perspective too.”

 

As his agent, you might think Norton
would have winced when he heard his client making such a bold prediction but in
this case he was all smiles.

 

“For a young man to put that much
on himself and to believe in himself and his team so much I think is great,
just as long as players aren’t doing it every week,” Norton
said.  “Zack felt that it was
a young team and that if he went out and did that they would believe in him and
themselves more than anything. 
It’s not for the public or for the other team, it’s for your
own team to know that you have belief in them and so they have to believe
too.”

 

Not only were the Wolves victorious in
the game but also Stortini recorded an assist on the game-tying goal and then
notched the eventual winner in double overtime.

 

“I think that as an athlete you
have to be confident in order to be successful and it’s great that
everything worked out that night,” Stortini said.

 

The bold call might have rubbed some
people the wrong way, they may have called it grandstanding or showboating, but
one thing you could never do is describe Stortini as dumb.

 

“People watch him play and they see
this mammoth kid who’s probably as tough as anybody his age in the world,
and you tend to think of guys who fit that role as maybe not being the sharpest
knives in the drawer, but Zack’s a very intelligent kid both in
how he picks up the game as well as worldly.”

 

Stortini has been awarded for his
scholastic achievements for the past several years and it’s an aspect of
life that he takes great pride in. 
If it rebukes the stereotype of a hockey tough guy being a mindless
drone, then so be it.

 

“For the past three years
I’ve been the Academic Player of the Year for the Sudbury Wolves and the
year before that I was the Scholastic Player of the Year for New Market,”
Stortini said.  “I’ve
always done really well in school and I think I’m both academically smart
and also just smart in general too. 
I do think it’s important to come across as well educated because
that is something that is very important nowadays.  It certainly makes it easier to
communicate with people off the ice.”

 

On the ice Stortini is one of the most
feared heavy weights in the OHL but with 21 goals last year, there is clearly
more he can do with his hands than curl them into fists.  Even so, fighting certainly isn’t
an aspect of the sport that Stortini dislikes either.

 

“No, I enjoy it and think it’s
a great part of the game and something that has to be done, it’s and
essential part of hockey and something I enjoy doing.”

 

“He was probably the toughest kid
in the OHL last year if not in all of major junior hockey,” suggested
Norton.

 

Another client of Scott Norton’s
recently joined the organization as well and Stortini is very familiar Rob
Schremp because they have spent the last few summers training together in Regina.  When Hockey’s
Future spoke with Schremp last month, Stortini’s name came up in a
positive way.

 

It’s
good to go out there with Zack every year, I’m good buddies with him and
we go golfing and stuff,” said Schremp.  “I’ve known him since I was
about 14, we have the same agent too.” 

 

Asked to describe
Stortini’s persona on the ice, Schremp got right to the point.

 

He’s
a tough kid, man!” he said sternly.  “He finishes his checks and plays
hard and he competes so that’s definitely the kind of player you want on
your team and you don’t want to play against him.”     

 

Stortini eloquently returned the compliments Schremp’s
way when the London
center’s name was mentioned.

 

“I’ve spent the past few summers with him and we
really work well together,” he began.  “(Schremp’s) a very skilled
forward and on the ice he’s probably one of the most gifted
players I’ve ever seen but I’ve also gotten the opportunity to
spend a lot of time with him off the ice too.  Everybody gives him the bad rap for
being cocky and stuff like that but I know him to be a really good-hearted kid
and I get really disappointed when I see stuff written like that about
him.  Once you get to know him
he’s not a bad kid at all, he’s a really good guy.”

 

“We’ve gotten pretty close I guess but in the
end, we’re still bitter rivals because he plays for London
and I’m in Sudbury,”
joked Stortini. 
“We’re still pretty good buddies though.”

 

After the rookie camp in Edmonton,
Stortini will return to his junior team and begin the quest for a Memorial Cup
berth, something he honestly believes is within Sudbury’s ability.

 

“It was
nice to make the playoffs again; we had a rough year the year before so it was
definitely a stepping stone,” he said.  “This year we’re expecting
that much more now that we’ve established a foundation for the team and
we’re looking to do even better and set that bar a little higher by
hopefully making a run for the Memorial Cup.”

 

When asked who
he expected the dominant teams in the OHL’s
Eastern Conference to be, the captain wouldn’t allow for any other answer
than the one you might expect.

 

“I’d
have to say that we’re looking really good right now,” he
persisted.  “We had a really
solid training camp and we have a great bunch of new kids coming in with a
strong core of guys from last year so I think we’re going to have a
really strong team this year. There are a lot of good teams out there but I
don’t think we’re too concerned with what they are doing,
we’re just worried about ourselves and what we have to do to win every
night.”

 

First things
first though for Zack Stortini, in the next few days he will be completely
focused on making further impressions on the Edmonton Oilers and what better
way to do that then by sinking his teeth into the Calgary Flames on Monday
night?  

 

Comment
on this story
at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s
Future Message Boards
.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial
staff.