SUN Hockey Pool

Stortini earns rave reviews

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

DALLAS -- He's got hot hands and busy fists, which is just about all you can ask from a hockey player who carries a lunch pail to the rink every night.

With three goals in his last six games, Zack Stortini has actually been leading the offensive charge for Edmonton, and with 18 bouts on the year, he's the most active fighter in the NHL.

He's making an impact at a time when the Oilers need it most, when the games are tougher and the stakes are higher.

"Zack played unreal, scored a big goal for us to tie it," head coach Craig MacTavish said of Stortini's work in San Jose, where he came one assist away from the Gordie Howe hat-trick.

"He's just playing smart and hard. He knows where the goals are (in the tough areas in front of the net) and he's not afraid to go there. He'll take the puck there and he'll go there without the puck. He's played great the last while."

All this from a guy who should be stuck in a cast up to his thigh with a season-ending injury.

But somehow, when his leg corkscrewed underneath him in that fight with Brad Staubitz on Jan. 9, nothing happened. Just a minor strain that he shook off in a matter of days.

A player's fate can change in a hurry in pro sports, and all the karma Stortini banked with his Sunday school personality (off the ice, anyway) is paying off big time on the ice.

"Everything happens for a reason," said the 23-year-old, who went with L.A.'s Raitis Ivanans, Phoenix's Todd Fedoruk and San Jose's Alexei Semenov on this trip.

"I'm so thankful for everything that's happened to me. It's been a long road to get here, a lot of hard work. But it's been a lot of fun; I've enjoyed every minute of it.

"I really enjoy playing with my linemates, (Kyle) Brodziak and Reds (Liam Reddox), they're great guys to play with, I get a lot of help from them. It's important to contribute and be more than one-dimensional out there."

There does appear to be a good chemistry developing on the fourth line. Throw in four points from Brodziak in the last four games and they're back to contributing like last year, when Curtis Glencross was one of the team's best spark plugs.

"When Kyle plays that way (with high intensity) it makes a big difference in how the line goes," said MacTavish.

"He was harder on the puck than what he is a lot of nights, His physical game, his emotional game elevated to the intensity of the (San Jose) game, and that's what you look for -- guys who can step in and add to the physical and emotional energy."

Coaches preach going to net till they lose their voices, or their jobs, but a lot of players don't like doing it because it hurts. Goalies hack you, defencemen abuse you, pucks go whizzing past your head, if you're lucky. It's not a fun place to be. But Stortini lives there -- and it's paying off.

"It's a tough area, but if you want goals, that's the place you're going to get them," said Reddox, adding it's always a special feeling when a plumber gets one.

The fourth line has been going so good that MacTavish is thinking about spreading the love around, promoting Stortini to the third line with Ethan Moreau and Cogliano.

"We're getting to the point now where we might see him elevate his role on the team," said MacTavish, who doesn't think Stortini's emergence can be credited to anything but hard work.

"Everybody's game requires maintenance and the guys who put the most maintenance in their game generally are the guys who provide you with the most consistency."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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