SUN Hockey Pool

Zack's impact drawing rave reviews

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

The goal was a reflection of the player himself.

A dirty, hard-nosed, grinder's goal. Banging away, hoping things work out in the end.

For Zack Stortini, nothing comes easy.

But he keeps plugging away, doing whatever he has to do to stay in the National Hockey League.

"He's a poster boy for every bit of work you put in the game paying off," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"Nobody puts more work in the game than Zack, in all facets of the game, whether it's learning the positional side of it or sitting down with the coaches. He's always sitting with (assistant coach) Billy (Moores), going over tape of his game.

"He's developing faster because of that and he's going to be a good player."

Stortini, 22, scored his second goal of the season - third of his career - in Friday's 4-1 loss to Dallas. He pounced on a loose puck following a mad scramble in front of the net and fired it over the glove of Stars goalie Marty Turco.

"Any time I'm able to contribute offensively it's definitely a positive," Stortini said. "But the main goal is to try to get those two points, trying to get the win. We were unable to do that (Friday) night."

Stortini was paired with Geoff Sanderson and Kyle Brodziak on the fourth line against Dallas. In addition to scoring Edmonton's only goal, they generated 10 of the team's 33 shots.

Stortini had two of them and played a season-high 12:12.

"Positionally his play for a young guy is impeccable," MacTavish said.

"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes positionally. He's a very willing scrapper, he's going to take the body all the time, and he's always in the middle of some dialogue with the opposition. He does a lot of good things and he's developing very quickly."

Stortini is trying to make the most of the opportunity presented to him by the Oilers.

The third round pick - 94th overall - in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft took over the tough-guy role vacated by the departure of Georges Laraque and has worked hard not only to become a quality enforcer, but a solid role player.

"I try to bring everything I have, each and every game," he said. "I think there were a lot of things I did well, but there are still a lot of things I have to improve upon at the same time.

"There is definitely a lot of room for improvement. I'm very fortunate to have a great opportunity with everybody around, the coaching staff that helps me get better."

Earlier this season there were questions whether Stortini was ready to be an every day player in the NHL. He started the season in the minors and after getting called up found himself in and out of the lineup.

But he's played the last five games and 18 of the last 19.

He appears to have found a permanent spot on the Oilers fourth line.

"You're never comfortable," he said. "It's always a battle and a grind each and every day and there's always pressure to get better and improve."

Meanwhile, centre Shawn Horcoff is going to try it again tomorrow night against the Calgary Flames.

Edmonton's leading scorer (21 goals, 29 assists) missed Friday's game with a shoulder injury. It's a problem that has been nagging him all season.

"It's a constant thing," he said.

"It's the first time it's cost me a game. But if I risked making it worse, I probably would take a chance by going out and play. As important as it is to be in the lineup you never want to risk long-term health."


Videos

Photos