Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
It’s not uncommon for hockey players to make a sudden and impactful difference on the ice in a very short period of time. Whether through a trade or in an off season acquisition, there is denying the numerous examples of “game changers” that instantly add something to their new team. However, there is a rare breed of player that understands life outside of his profession, and embraces the community and its fans in full force. That player understands that part of the game is also about time spent away from the rink. Such goes the legend of Zack Stortini as an Oklahoma City Baron.
Known by some as a hired gun or merely Zorg, Zack Stortini took his demotion from big leaguer to minor leaguer in stride. Nearly a year ago, fans in Edmonton were caught of guard, but ultimately not surprised by his send off to the waiver wires. He’d clear and spend the last half of the season in the American League. From 2006 until 2010, Zack had only played four minor league games (in Springfield) the rest were spent with the team that drafted him, the Edmonton Oilers. The relationship he had with the organization was indeed a good-natured one until the team saw the need for change within the re-build. Unfortunately for Stortini, he wasn’t in those plans.
There was no question that he was loved by some in Edmonton and hated equally as much by others. However, there was no denying that Zack was a scrappy champion of the under-dog. Call me eternally optimistic , but I like players that are hard working in spite of their shortcomings. It somewhat humanizes them, and gives an interesting edge to their persona. This is who Zack became.
For the short time Stortini was in Oklahoma he did what we fans anticipated him doing. In 29 games he only mustered three points, but did execute 53 penalty minutes. That sounds like a Zorg special if I’ve ever heard of one. He was tough, hard hitting, and risky on the ice. In post-season play he was the tough-as-nails guy that took the Hamilton Bulldogs to seven games. Despite that loss in the first ever OKC playoff run, Stortini was a key component to that teams stellar shutdown line. I love him for that. But it was his time off the ice that had many fans enraptured by his prescence.
He’s one of the good ones. A guy who loves the game of hockey with a passion that far exceeds even his physical limitations. He’s the type of player that will look even the shyest of fans in the eye, shake their hand, and wrap his arm around their shoulder, smile toothlessly for a picture, and do it again because your flash was off. He didn’t do these things out of obligation, but because he is a person with high character. Much like the Bryan Helmers and Andrew Lords of the world, Stortini was hard not to love.
He was very honest about his demotion, but understood the process. He told the Oklahoman in February 2011:
“It’s been one of the harder things I’ve had to do in my career,” Stortini said of dealing with the demotion. “But I’ve had tremendous support from the guys in the locker room there and my family and friends, and there are great people here that are supportive.”
Since he was claimed by the Nashville Predators organization he’s continued his legacy of scrappiness and edgy play. Whether in preseason or with the farm club in Milwaukee, Stortini has been doing things like this:
And also this:
And my what a difference one calendar year makes both for the Oilers and the Barons. For the NHL club, a heart and soul guy like Stortini might be somewhat welcome at this point. For the Barons, the team has moved on without him and proved to be a dominate minor league force. But in the end, Stortini’s move to greener pastures outside of the Oilers organization was inevitable. I’ll always think fondly of his time as a Baron mainly for how he endeared himself to fans including yours truly.
This weekend, the Milwaukee Admirals head to Oklahoma City for a two games in two night tangle. The Ads are struggling in the Midwest Division this season, but at this point are only 9 points out of first. Certainly they could put together a string of games to end the season, and place themselves in the post season. This will also be the first time Stortini has been back in OKC.
There is no doubt that fans remember his magnetic personality and spirit. He’s still someone that fans watch closely and cheer for. And although his time in Oklahoma was short-lived he made a difference. A difference that fans of a new team will always speak fondly of. So, welcome to your ephemeral, temporary, once-was home Zack. We thank you.