Stortini Adds Leadership and Grit
Nov 7, 2011
By Jason Karnosky
In an American Hockey League stocked full of prospects and talented young players looking for their National Hockey League break, teams are always thin on experience.
Therefore, clubs like the Milwaukee Admirals can never have enough veterans to help navigate their ships through the highs and lows of a lengthy 76-game season.
So Milwaukee got a quite a boost on October 12th with the addition of Zack Stortini, a forward with 257 games of NHL hockey on his resume.
“It a great situation for me coming to a team with quality coaches like Kirk (Muller) and Ian (Herbers),” said Stortini, who joined an Admirals’ squad with just eight returning skaters. “They’ve really worked with me to get me better, while offering me an opportunity to play and get back into the NHL.”
However, Stortini’s road to the Admirals came at a significant price. After a strong training camp with Nashville, Stortini made the Predators opening night roster and would go on to dress in Nashville’s second game of the season—an October 8th contest at St. Louis. In the Predators’ 4-2 victory, Stortini racked up seven minutes in penalties and recorded one shot on goal in four minutes and 53 seconds of ice time against the Blues.
Sadly Stortini’s stay in Nashville was short lived. When the Predators claimed fellow veteran tough guy Brian McGrattan from the Anaheim Ducks off of waivers, Stortini was sent down to Milwaukee to clear up roster space.
But rather than mope around about the demotion, Stortini took the trip down to the AHL in stride, helping the Admirals to a 6-2-0-1 record in his first nine games with Milwaukee.
“I am sure Zack’s disappointed because he had a really good training camp, but his attitude with us has been amazing,” Milwaukee coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s been a true leader, especially with our forwards, and he has been a great role guy for us.”
Stortini’s return to Milwaukee signaled a return to comfortable surroundings. Back in 2005-2006, the Elliot Lake, Ontario, native dressed in 37 regular season contests with the Admirals, and in 17 more during the Calder Cup playoffs.
“It’s been great to see all of the familiar faces and all of the great people here in the Milwaukee organization,” said Stortini, who racked up a stunning 172 penalty minutes in his 54 games with the Admirals. “It made it easy for me to comeback.”
That season Milwaukee nearly captured the franchise’s second Calder Cup, falling two games short against Hershey in the finals (the first of three titles in five years for the Bears). The Admirals’ deep playoff run proved a valuable learning experience for Stortini.
“(2006) was a great opportunity to play playoff hockey and experience the intensity of playing in the finals,” Stortini said. “Competing in meaningful games at the end of the year is something every player wants to do.”
Fast forwarding to the present, Stortini brings valuable wisdom to Milwaukee as the team’s third oldest forward. And at 6’4”, 215 lbs., Stortini also adds a much needed physical presence.
“Even though Zack isn’t going to wear a letter on his jersey, he is going to be a mentor for our younger guys,” Admirals forward Ryan Thang said. “But (Stortini) also brings a toughness factor on a daily basis that we need in our lineup. We do not have the biggest team here in Milwaukee, so it’s great seeing Zack throw his body around out there.”
Fellow veteran scrapper Scott Ford appreciates having assistance in the Admirals’ fighting department.
“Zack’s a great character guy and a great locker room guy, who is as tough as nails on the ice,” Ford said. “He’s played in a lot of games in the NHL and has had a lot of success coming to the aid of his teammates.”
Though Stortini enjoys playing in Milwaukee, he has not lost sight of his ultimate goal of returning to the NHL on a fulltime basis. Contributing more offensively is a good place to start, and Stortini got that monkey off of his back by picking up his first goal of the season on Sunday, October 30, 5-3 loss to Texas.
“I think for me (to go back to the NHL), I just need to become a better hockey player while I’m here,” Stortini said. “I need to make better plays with the puck, get faster and stronger and improve upon every aspect of my game.”