Zack Stortini As A Fighter

Jonathan Willis
August 29 2009 12:00PM

The nickname “Huggy Bear” has plagued Zack Stortini since he entered the NHL because of the style with which he fought. Lined up against men like Derek Boogaard and Andrew Peters – rather huge, frightening men – Stortini often resorted to grappling and wrestling. Towards the end of last season, though, things seemed to change.

It would be a little time-consuming to review all 55 of Zack Stortini’s fights. Fortunately, hockeyfights.com tracks this sort of thing for us, and even has fans vote on who they think won the fight. Let’s look at Stortini’s record (win-loss-draw) over time:

  • 2006-07: 1-4-2
  • First half of 2007-08: 1-9-2
  • Second half of 2007-08: 2-7-2
  • First half of 2008-09: 0-5-8
  • Second half of 2008-09: 5-5-2

First off: Zack Stortini has both a) an incredible ability to take punishment and b) a ton of courage for being as willing to fight as he is. I don’t think either of those statements are open to argument, and the fact that he keeps going into fights despite an atrocious win/loss record shows how badly he wants an NHL job.

The second point I have is that Stortini’s win/loss record to end the year was quite good. It’s especially good if you consider that over his last eight fights he went 5-2-1 – in his final eight fights of the season, Stortini won more decisions than he had in the previous forty-seven fights.

It wasn’t even that Stortini decided to take it easy and pick on light-weights; among the players he fought over those final eight games were Raitis Ivanans (win), John Scott (loss) and George Parros (twice – winning both of them).

Stortini (along with Steve MacIntyre) took some time this summer to train with Georges Laraque. Laraque has always been publicly enthusiastic about Stortini’s abilities, and this was no exception. He told Derek Van Diest that Stortini did very well, and that his role was to give “him a couple of tricks and pointers from a veteran on how to defend yourself and be aggressive”.

Stortini will be 24 by the time the puck drops this season – and unlike most enforcers, he was good enough on the hockey end of things to get an NHL job at an early age, so it only makes sense that it would take a few years for him to come into his own as a fighter. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Stortini vastly improved in the pugilism department this fall - fans might even be forced to retire the “Huggy Bear” moniker.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 Hoss
August 30 2009, 04:40PM
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I warmed up at the end of 07/08 and now am an ardent supporter. I met him at the AC/DC concert and he is a nice guy too. I think people may eventually like him as much as old Georgie one day. Hope he wins some good scraps and pots some goals this year!

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#52 Chris
August 30 2009, 08:43PM
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I think Stortini's rough start with the fans had a lot more to do with the way Oilers management mishandled Laraque:

They failed to offer one of the league's best enforcers and most popular Oilers any kind of contract: and then hailed poor Zach as the answer to a glaring hole in the lineup. Stupid. Not Stortini's fault.

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#53 Racki
August 30 2009, 08:46PM
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So I put my theory to the test that I think a lot of people vote winners just based on their favorites (or least favorites). I watched every fight I could (unfortunately I couldn't watch 4 of his fights because there was no video).

By my counts, he was actually 5-5-15 this year. So I didn't find any more fights of his as wins, however I found that 5 of his fights that people considered as losses should more so be considered draws (either he landed as many as the other guy, or really nothing happened in the fight).

Of course this is all completely subjective here. But I think Stortini's record is a bit better than the voters credit him.

The only one fight I'd consider questionable whether it should be a draw or a loss (that I counted as a draw) was vs. John Scott. Scott really landed the only punch, and Stortini scored the takedown... but I didn't think really anything significant happened in that one.

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#54 Bank Shot
August 30 2009, 09:11PM
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I don't think less of Stortini for hugging against Boogaard. I think less of him for getting beat up by guys like Owen Nolan.

If a guy that is 6'4" and 230 Lbs gets kicked all over the ice by middleweights, I have a hard time imagining him ever developing into a fighter that is respected (let alone feared) in the NHL.

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#55 BigE57
August 30 2009, 09:13PM
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@ Bank Shot:

Owen NOlan is a tough hombre and would likely give a lot of heavyweights a run for their money.

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#56 Racki
August 30 2009, 09:47PM
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Old man power

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#57 BruceM
August 31 2009, 12:11AM
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Bank Shot, I remember that Owen Nolan fight, the old greybeard showed his smarts by taking on Storts at the end of a long shift when Nolan himself had just stepped on the ice. Nolan isn't exactly a wimp, either.

I'd still like to see a do-over with a fair start. Zack owes him one ... or five. Bastard.

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#58 Jodes
August 31 2009, 12:41AM
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He can't be all that bad.. He's getting a rep for as an Enforcer.. Anyone see the NHL 10' pics? I turn on my Xbox live menu and who's face do I see in a scrappin' pose? Stortini's.. They could have picked any other enforcer, but they chose him to help promote the game.

His likeness is also featured in the latest Xbox 360 mag out in stores now too.

Might just have to pic that copy up..

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#59 Ogden Brother
August 31 2009, 08:59AM
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Chris wrote:

I think Stortini’s rough start with the fans had a lot more to do with the way Oilers management mishandled Laraque: They failed to offer one of the league’s best enforcers and most popular Oilers any kind of contract: and then hailed poor Zach as the answer to a glaring hole in the lineup. Stupid. Not Stortini’s fault.

That's ridiculous. Letting BGL go has proven to be a good move. I also don't remember them "hailing" Zach as the answer, I remember it more the fan base telling themselves they had a true enforcer on their hands.

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#60 Scott in Grande Prairie
August 31 2009, 11:32AM
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Losing that tilt with Owen Nolan was notable, but probably more so because it showed how tough Nolan still is. Nolan, in his heyday, was part of that category of NHL stars whom did not fight much because if they did, it was lights-out for the other guy. Clark Gillies, Cam Neely, Scott Stevens, Dave Manson, Rick Tocchet, Owen Nolan - these were all guys who could play well and really throw 'em. You can probably add Jarome Iginla to that list now, too.

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#61 Racki
August 31 2009, 12:22PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

That’s ridiculous. Letting BGL go has proven to be a good move. I also don’t remember them “hailing” Zach as the answer, I remember it more the fan base telling themselves they had a true enforcer on their hands.

To Zack's credit, I'd also say that when his team was getting beat down in their own building, he took a look around the room and realized that he HAD to be that enforcer.

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#62 Chris
August 31 2009, 08:41PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

MacT repeatedly hailed Zach as the answer... sorry I can't reference any article: but my memory on this is clear. Zach was the centerpiece (along with Moreau and Staios) in a team *ahem* tough strategy.

I'm not saying refusing to offer Laraque even the league minimum was necessarily a huge mistake... But I am saying that when Lowe said enforcers were "obsolete" he effectively painted a target on Hemsky's back... Also to offer up big dollars to Georges just a few years later smacks of stupidity.

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#63 Ogden Brother
August 31 2009, 11:43PM
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Chris wrote:

@ Ogden Brother: MacT repeatedly hailed Zach as the answer… sorry I can’t reference any article: but my memory on this is clear. Zach was the centerpiece (along with Moreau and Staios) in a team *ahem* tough strategy. I’m not saying refusing to offer Laraque even the league minimum was necessarily a huge mistake… But I am saying that when Lowe said enforcers were “obsolete” he effectively painted a target on Hemsky’s back… Also to offer up big dollars to Georges just a few years later smacks of stupidity.

I doubt Hemsky would have gotten hit any less because agitator X from team Y was worried his teams enforcer would have to fight Laraque.

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#64 Chris.
September 01 2009, 11:30AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

I doubt Hemsky would have gotten hit any less because agitator X from team Y was worried his teams enforcer would have to fight Laraque.

Maybe. Difficult to prove. If I'm Boogaard; and I hear that some GM spouting off about how I'm "obsolete" in the "new NHL": I might be extra motivated to prove to that GM that my type of game remains relevent. Boogaard ran our show for two full seasons thanks to the ~team tough~ lunacy.

Lowe's refusal to offer Laraque even a marginal contract in /06, and subsequent remarks on the matter, were big news around the NHL... Players notice these things; particularly players who make their living with their fists.

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#65 Ogden Brother
September 01 2009, 11:46AM
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Chris. wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: I doubt Hemsky would have gotten hit any less because agitator X from team Y was worried his teams enforcer would have to fight Laraque. Maybe. Difficult to prove. If I’m Boogaard; and I hear that some GM spouting off about how I’m “obsolete” in the “new NHL”: I might be extra motivated to prove to that GM that my type of game remains relevent. Boogaard ran our show for two full seasons thanks to the ~team tough~ lunacy. Lowe’s refusal to offer Laraque even a marginal contract in /06, and subsequent remarks on the matter, were big news around the NHL… Players notice these things; particularly players who make their living with their fists.

I don't know man, sounds like you are grasping at straws in order to cast managment in a poor light.

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#66 Chris.
September 01 2009, 12:57PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

Grasping at straws? These aren't straws: these are facts. There has been a serious philisophical flip flop over the past three years in Oil Country regarding the importance of enforcers. The FACT that Laraque was suddenly offered a contract (after passing his prime) and that in lieu of his return; Big Mac was plucked off the waiver wire: is proof of this shift.

Now for straw grasping: IMO, Lowe bought in too hard to a flawed line of reasoning: the notion that having big men was less important in the new NHL. Whether you look at the enforcer flip-flop, or the post lockout drafting trends, it's clear that not enough organizational value has been placed on size... The Oilers brand, until recently, has always been synominous with size, grit, character and toughness. Even during the Ron Low years, the Oilers were at least tough to play against. It's going to take years to undo some of the damage that has been done to the makeup of this team.

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#67 Ogden Brother
September 01 2009, 01:04PM
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Chris. wrote:

@ Ogden Brother: Grasping at straws? These aren’t straws: these are facts. There has been a serious philisophical flip flop over the past three years in Oil Country regarding the importance of enforcers. The FACT that Laraque was suddenly offered a contract (after passing his prime) and that in lieu of his return; Big Mac was plucked off the waiver wire: is proof of this shift. Now for straw grasping: IMO, Lowe bought in too hard to a flawed line of reasoning: the notion that having big men was less important in the new NHL. Whether you look at the enforcer flip-flop, or the post lockout drafting trends, it’s clear that not enough organizational value has been placed on size… The Oilers brand, until recently, has always been synominous with size, grit, character and toughness. Even during the Ron Low years, the Oilers were at least tough to play against. It’s going to take years to undo some of the damage that has been done to the makeup of this team.

Straws you grasped at:

- hailed poor Zach as the answer to a glaring hole in the lineup

- painted a target on Hemsky’s back

- If I’m Boogaard; and I hear that some GM spouting off about how I’m “obsolete” in the “new NHL”: I might be extra motivated to prove to that GM that my type of game remains relevent (the biggest straw)

- Boogaard ran our show for two full seasons thanks to the ~team tough~ lunacy

- Players notice these things; particularly players who make their living with their fists

Unsubstantiad claim:

"They failed to offer one of the league’s best enforcers"

He might be one of the best fighters, but from what I seen he's one of the worst enforcers.

Gross exageration:

"It’s going to take years to undo some of the damage that has been done to the makeup of this team"

Hardly, Mac/Stortini/JFJ/Moreau give us more then adaquate size/toughness in the bottom 6. Flip one small body out for on big body and combined with Penner the top 6 is adaquate as well.

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#68 Chris.
September 01 2009, 01:23PM
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Chris. wrote:

Now for straw grasping: IMO, Lowe bought in too hard to a flawed line of reasoning: the notion that having big men was less important in the new NHL.

On this points, I admitted, I am straw grasping... This is merely a pet theory of mine, hence the IMO moniker.

On the other stuff, how about you take a look at an offering by none other than the great Robin Brownlee back in January of 2007:

hxxp://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Edmonton/2007/01/19/pf-3407066.html

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#69 Chris.
September 01 2009, 01:34PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

Commet #67 was for you.

Ogden Brother wrote:

Straws you grasped at: - hailed poor Zach as the answer to a glaring hole in the lineup

"We have Zach Stortini whose an option for us and maybe one we'll take soon and call up." -MacT Jan/07.

Ogden Brother wrote:

painted a target on Hemsky’s back

"It's no secret teams are taking liberties with Ales" -MacT Jan/07.

Ogden Brother wrote:

Boogaard ran our show for two full seasons thanks to the ~team tough~ lunacy

My opinion... Certainly not a minority opinion.

Ogden Brother wrote:

He might be one of the best fighters, but from what I seen he’s one of the worst enforcers.

You're opinion.

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#70 BruceM
September 01 2009, 06:24PM
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//He might be one of the best fighters, but from what I seen he’s one of the worst enforcers.// You’re opinion.

My opinion too. As an Oiler, Laraque was king of that type of fight I call "by invitation only", more or less staged, off a neutral zone face-off with the tough guy of the other team. What Georges was much less good at was responding to stuff that happened on the ice within the game, sometimes even on his own shift.

A few years ago I attended a game where I became absolutely incensed at Laraque for miserably failing to do his job. My memory's going: I can't remember who the opposition greaseball was or who the Oiler he gooned from behind head-first into the boards was either (Boyd Devereaux maybe?), but I do remember the important detail that Laraque was the closest Oiler and did not respond. Instead, Jason Chimera had to come over from the far wing to challenge the guy, and for his troubles Jason C got his head handed to him. I was absolutely beside myself by the cheap shot, by the lost fight, but most of all by the utter failure of our supposed "enforcer" to tune himself in, let alone the other guy. I was saying things like "There's a bus to [AHL affiliate city] at 8 a.m. ... be under it" and stupid $#!+ like that. It takes a lot to get me that riled, but tell you the truth, I'm still riled.

Perhaps sensing the anger in the building -- I was far from alone in my reaction -- Laraque did do his thing next period, taking on the other team's designated goofball in a staged fight that accomplished absolutely F-all. I'm pretty sure both remembered to say "please" and "thank you", which was always the way Big Georges liked it.

What good does that do a team? I'll take a Gator or a Souray 10 times out of 10, a guy that fights 3 times a year but is there with bells on when the situation calls for it.

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#71 Ogden Brother
September 02 2009, 10:18AM
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BruceM wrote:

//He might be one of the best fighters, but from what I seen he’s one of the worst enforcers.// You’re opinion. My opinion too. As an Oiler, Laraque was king of that type of fight I call “by invitation only”, more or less staged, off a neutral zone face-off with the tough guy of the other team. What Georges was much less good at was responding to stuff that happened on the ice within the game, sometimes even on his own shift. A few years ago I attended a game where I became absolutely incensed at Laraque for miserably failing to do his job. My memory’s going: I can’t remember who the opposition greaseball was or who the Oiler he gooned from behind head-first into the boards was either (Boyd Devereaux maybe?), but I do remember the important detail that Laraque was the closest Oiler and did not respond. Instead, Jason Chimera had to come over from the far wing to challenge the guy, and for his troubles Jason C got his head handed to him. I was absolutely beside myself by the cheap shot, by the lost fight, but most of all by the utter failure of our supposed “enforcer” to tune himself in, let alone the other guy. I was saying things like “There’s a bus to [AHL affiliate city] at 8 a.m. … be under it” and stupid $#!+ like that. It takes a lot to get me that riled, but tell you the truth, I’m still riled. Perhaps sensing the anger in the building — I was far from alone in my reaction — Laraque did do his thing next period, taking on the other team’s designated goofball in a staged fight that accomplished absolutely F-all. I’m pretty sure both remembered to say “please” and “thank you”, which was always the way Big Georges liked it. What good does that do a team? I’ll take a Gator or a Souray 10 times out of 10, a guy that fights 3 times a year but is there with bells on when the situation calls for it.

Bingo

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#72 Chris
September 02 2009, 11:01AM
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@ Ogden Brother:

You're missing my argument entirely. I don't care if Laraque was a great enforcer or not...

My argument was about Stortini. You don't live in the city. You don't remember the way Stortini was introduced to the fans through the local media. Stortini was brought in, with some hype, to be our enforcer... Management has a history of promoting from within young players to roles they aren't ready/suited for. (IE. Cogs as shutdown center) Stortini was a twenty-one year rookie; not a true heavyweight; and was put in a position where he was expected to fight guys like Goddard, Boogaard, and others... It wasn't fair.

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#73 Matty
September 05 2009, 02:29PM
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You have to understand the struggle Stortini has had coming in - He was the undisputed OHL heavyweight champ in his final year, and to that point had made a career simply outpunching opponents. All of a sudden he's in the NHL, and he is weaker, smaller, and slower than every legit heavy he is fighting. The only way the guy could survive was to become huggy bear.

The problem now is that he has a massive reputation. I follow hockey fighting pretty closely (I'm "OilersHockey" on hockeyfights.com) and I can tell you that everything I've read from other heavies in the NHL points to the fact there is ZERO respect for Stortini as an enforcer. He simply can't do that job.

Stortini is making a name for himself as an agitator/light heavy though. He is definitely effective in that role. He can play a regular shift. The guy has a place.

However, this team needs to rely on Big Mac, Jacques (if he makes it) and Souray to do the bigtime fighting - Stortini embarasses himself when fighting a legit heavy everytime.

As a deterrent - total failure. Just ask yourself this question: What was Stortini's most decisive heavyweight win in the NHL? Answer - there basically aren't any. That's why he's not feared. It's pretty simple.

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October 11 2009, 09:36AM
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