SUN Hockey Pool

Stortini under the microscope

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

JASPER -- Zack Stortini had better stand up straight during the national anthems on Sunday, as he's one slouch away from a 10-minute misconduct.

The 23-year-old winger hasn't been in the NHL very long, just one full season, but his his agitating style and quick lip have turned him into a public enemy on the ice - and it's not just the other teams that seem out to get him.

Referees had Stortini under the microscope all last season and, judging from recent exhibition games, they will again this year.

In just his third preseason game he was already plucked out of a scrum in Calgary and given a 10-minute misconduct - never mind that there were nine other guys pushing and face washing in the same gathering.

"It's unreal," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "I've never seen a guy with that type of reputation with the officials. I've never seen a guy who can get away with less. They're just on him all the time.

"I don't know why, he's a decent guy and he has a job to do and they don't want to let him do it. He gets more area 10-minute misconducts than anybody I've ever seen."

So concerned are the Oilers about the spotlight referees seem to have on Stortini that they arranged a meeting last year with Stephen Walkom, the NHL's director of officiating.

"Me and Kevin Lowe were in (Lowe's) office talking to him over the phone, just trying to find out what I can do differently," said Stortini.

"We wanted to let them know I'm not a dirty player. I'm just out there to do my job and play hard, be hard to play against. Obviously (staying out of the box) is a part of the game that I have to manage."

If Stortini wants to avoid the wrath of the referees, he has to quit trying to stir things up all the time, but if he quits trying to stir things up all the time he'll end up incurring the wrath of his coach. It's a fine line he has to walk, and attempting to find a better way to walk it is just one of the ways he's trying to improve his game.

"That's always been his strength, he's never going to leave a stone unturned in terms of his preparation," said MacTavish.

He didn't this summer.

"I was basically forcing myself to get better in all three zones of the ice," said Stortini, who worked out in Sudbury, Ont., for a few weeks, then at the Oilers training camp in L.A. for six weeks, then in Regina with a power-skating coach. "It was a long summer, but it was good to get a lot of work in."

Clearly he isn't taking his spot here for granted, despite establishing himself as a regular fixture on the fourth line last season.

"You can never take anything for granted. It's such a hard road to get here and it's even harder to stay here. I'm not satisfied with where I'm at in my development.

"I want to get faster. I want to get stronger. I want to be a better hockey player.

"I have a lot of work ahead of me to get to where I want to be. It's a continuing battle to improve," he added.

Having big Steve MacIntyre here gives him a chance to do that. With a six-foot-six slugger riding shotgun, Stortini will be able to operate with much more impunity than he has in the past (at least as far as angry opponents go; referees will remain a challenge).

"Where MacIntyre helps Zack is it puts him down in a more comfortable weight category in terms of who he has to scrap every game," said MacTavish.

"That's a big thing, not that Zack would ever back down from anything. In fact we had to hold him back a lot of nights from going after the superheavyweights."


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