Zack Stortini is returning to the site where his NHL career was first launched.
After being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the third round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, which was held in Nashville, Tenn., the former captain of the Sudbury Wolves spent his first five years in the NHL in northern Alberta. He suited up in a total of 256 games with the Oilers.
A free agent this past summer, Stortini inked a deal with the Nashville Predators, but bears no ill-will with the city that launched his pro hockey career.
"I really enjoyed Edmonton,” he said recently, not long before heading off to his first training camp with the Predators. “I met a lot of great people there, both people in hockey and outside of hockey. I'm very thankful for the opportunity that I was given there."
For most hockey fans, Stortini is best known for his role as an enforcer, possessing a fearless approach in taking on all comers when it came to dropping the gloves.
To those much closer to the game, they recognize Stortini as a power forward with a great work ethic, constantly working to try and expand the scope of his game.
"It's very important to be more than a one-dimensional player," Stortini said. "I think that's kind of a dying breed. Teams are now looking for guys that can do more than just fight.
"I've always worked hard and prided myself on being more than just that, being able to play the game with my head, more so than anything else."
Still, heavyweight tilts draw the 10-second clips of TSN and other stations, while working hard to shut down an opponent through intelligent physical play rarely does.
"Understanding the game and the different situations in the game and what has to be done is important," Stortini said.
Those close to the young man, who always excelled academically through his youth, know just how much time and effort Stortini has put into trying to better his all-around skill set.
"My skating and puck-handling, in particular — I'm working at being more smooth, a little more confident with those skills," he said. "It's a continuing work in progress. I'm never satisfied with where I am, and I need to work on those two skills, in particular, to become a better hockey player.
"I'm lucky to have guys like Andrew Brunette and Derek MacKenzie in town and I continue to learn from those guys,” he added.
At his best, Stortini said he believes he can fit nicely into a third line role, making it uncomfortable for his opponents by maintaining constant motion and a definite physical presence, potting the occasional goal at the other end of the rink.
It was that bio that prompted him to look at Nashville as a possible destination once it became clear the Oilers were moving in a different direction.
"You kind of look around the league and see where you might fit in on a team," Stortini said. "Nashville was always one of those teams where I felt I could fit in well with their system, into their philosophy."
And there is some familiarity on both sides of this coin. Early in his pro career, Stortini suited up with the Milwaukee Admirals, at the time, a joint minor league venture that was shared by both Edmonton and Nashville.
"My first year of pro hockey, I played with Milwaukee, so I know about four or five of the guys from the (Nashville) team," he said.
It's been a summer of change for the outgoing Sudburian, who married long-time girlfriend Desirée Major, an outstanding athlete from her days at Collège Notre-Dame, back in July.
Now 25 years old, Stortini said he is anxious to embark on the next phase of his life and hockey career.
"The fans there are intense, very excited. It's going to be a fun arena to play in. I'm really looking forward to getting down there."
- Posted by Laurel Myers