GEORGES LARAQUE: HIS SIDE OF THE STORY

Robin Brownlee
May 21 2010 06:07PM

Instead of being part of the Montreal Canadiens unlikely appearance in the Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Flyers, TV facetime for Georges Laraque these days means getting tossed around a wrestling mat by mixed martial arts kingpin Georges St. Pierre.

While the Habs beat the Flyers 5-1 Thursday to cut Philadelphia's series lead to 2-1, Laraque, told to pack his bags by Montreal GM Bob Gainey January 21, has had to make due with promoting a wrestling match with MMA star George St. Pierre on TSN. What could the 33-year-old Laraque, one of the NHL's toughest men, have done to compel the Canadiens to send him home with full pay midway through the second season of a three-year contract worth $4.5 million? A contract the Habs will buy-out for two-thirds of the $1.5 million he's owed next season.

When the Canadiens released him, Gainey characterized Laraque as unproductive, as being a distraction, saying, "I met with Georges Laraque and informed him he would not be continuing as part of our team. We felt our goals were more achievable to continue without him."

Asked about being relegated to sideshow status in a friendly bit of grappling with friend St. Pierre instead of battling the Flyers in primetime, Laraque says the answer lies with coach Jacques Martin, who took over behind the bench to start this season. In Laraque's first exclusive interview since being released by the Canadiens, the former Edmonton Oilers tough guy gives his side of the story to Oilersnation.

So, Georges, what happened?

ACCORDING TO GEORGES

"First of all, the question you're asking me is a question everybody around the league has been asking me," Laraque said. "Players, GMs, coaches, to my agent, to many people.

"The way that everything went down, in the eyes of many people, people assume I must have done something really bad. Like I must have fought with somebody or argued with someone.

"Me, I have never argued with a teammate. I have never fought with the coach or the GM. Never once they told me they were not happy with my play. I've always worked hard. When I didn't play, I never complained and I did all my work.

"I never said one word about what was going on with the team. That's the first thing I clarify with people. I was the player rep. I was one of the most popular players on the team. I was always happy and there was never a problem"

Laraque, drafted by the Oilers 31st in 1995, played parts of eight seasons with Edmonton before signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes before the 2006-07 season when GM Kevin Lowe declined to give him the no-trade clause he wanted.

Laraque made stops in Phoenix and Pittsburgh, then turned down an opportunity to return to Edmonton -- the Oilers offered him a four-year deal worth $6 million when Daryl Katz took over as team owner -- opting to take a three-year deal in his hometown with the Habs.

While Laraque had a disappointing 2008-09 season in Montreal with Guy Carbonneau and Gainey behind the bench, playing just 33 games because of back problems, he hoped for better things in his second campaign.

Enter Martin.

NOT HAMMERTIME

"The problem started when Jacques got hired last summer," Laraque said. "When Jacques got hired, Andre Roy, who used to play for him in Ottawa, told me I wouldn't last three months.

"I asked him why and he said, 'Jacques doesn't like tough guys.' When he said that, I started laughing. I said, 'There's no way you know it's going to go like this.' He said, 'You'll see. Three months.'

"When you look at Jacques, when he was in Ottawa, it's true he had a talented team. He had Rob Ray and Andre Roy, but he would not play them against Toronto. They got roughed up all the time. Even though Ottawa was more talented, Toronto would beat them.

"Then Jacques went to Florida. He had Wade Belak and Steve Macintyre. He traded Belak to Nashville and he let MacIntyre go to Edmonton. After Jacques left, they (Florida) got MacIntyre back.

"I heard when he came to Montreal, he didn't want to have a tough guy. But Gainey was the coach in the playoffs the previous year, as everybody remembers, and I did a good job against Boston and he played me lots. I assume he must have told him to wait, or whatever."

RED LIGHT SPECIAL

Even during his rise to becoming recognized as the NHL's most feared fighter with the Oilers, Laraque was criticized for his lack of a mean streak, for failing to fully exploit his fistic prowess, for not punching first and asking questions later. He heard the same criticisms in Montreal.

"This season, everybody was asking me what was going on, why I didn't want to fight and stuff like that," Laraque said. "That's not true. If I didn't want to fight, I wouldn't have been in the NHL for 12 years.

"When stuff was happening on the ice, I would tell Jacques to put me out there. He didn't want to. He wouldn't let me go out and fight. Sometimes, I'd even ask him if I could take a bad penalty.

"I'm not going to criticize Jacques, but if you don't like having a tough guy, you don't necessarily know how to use them. I've played for Ron Low, Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe, Michel Therrien. All those guys knew how to use a tough guy.

"When I tapped one of those coaches, I didn't get a 'no.' With Jacques, it would happen all the time. With MacT, that happened at the end, too, but not the first few years. In the beginning it wasn't like that. I'd say to MacT, 'Let's go.' He would laugh and put me out there."

Handcuffed, he says, by Martin, Laraque played just 28 games with the Habs this season before he was called in by Gainey and told his services would no longer be needed.

"People said I didn't want to fight any more," Laraque said. "Sometimes I'd go to (assistant coach) Kirk Muller and say, 'Kirk, I need to go out there. You've got to let me go out and do something.' Kirk would talk to Jacques, but he was the coach and he made the decisions."

READY TO RUMBLE

"I was healthy this year," Laraque said. "My back, everything, was fine. The more the season went on, the less I was playing. It came to a point where I was playing four shifts a game. I never complained. I was just sitting on the bench, but I tried as hard as I could. "I'm not a four-shift-a-game player. I can play more than that. I take pride in the fact that every year in the playoffs, I'm one of the tough guys who can play. The people in Montreal never got to see that. The first year, I was always hurt. Only the playoffs against Boston saved my season.

"The second year, I played for a coach who didn't want to have me. You know the media in Montreal. When I wasn't playing, the media would ask a lot of questions. It was to the point that whenever there was a press conference, people were always asking him (Martin) why I wasn't playing.

"He was getting sick of it, always having to answer why I wasn't playing. It can be a distraction. You want to talk about the team, the play, whatever. You don't want to talk about why you aren't playing this guy. He didn't like that." In one game against St. Louis last January. Laraque was a healthy scratch. Blues tough guy Cam Janssen was running roughshod over the Habs. That prompted TSN's Pierre Maguire to question, in no uncertain terms, on the broadcast why Laraque wasn't being used.

"He (Maguire) was between the benches. Jacques could hear him. After the game, all the media were asking why I wasn't playing. I got released the next day."

WHO WANTS GEORGES?

When the Habs buy Laraque out this June, he'll be free to shop his services, likely at a discounted rate. Laraque will get $1 million of his $1.5 million salary for 2010-11 from Montreal, meaning he could sign for the NHL minimum.

"I want to come back and show people who think I can't do it any more that I can do the job," he said. "I look around the league and I see a lot of tough guys. I know I can still do the job better than most of them.

"I look forward to coming back. When I'm a free agent, I can go wherever I want. I will definitely be back. I'm only 33. I'm healthy. I'm hungry to play more than ever. I want to show those people who think I'm done that I'm not done."

The question for some fans is if a return to the Edmonton might be in the cards for Laraque. "I'm in the driver's seat. I can play anywhere I want," he said. "Any option I have, I'm going to consider it, right? We'll see."

For as badly as things went for Laraque in Montreal, he says he doesn't regret his decision to sign there.

"That's the way he (Martin) coached in Ottawa, in Florida, in Montreal," Laraque said. "I'm not going to take it personally. At the end of the day, there was way more good than bad. I want to thank the fans for all their support. Still, today, I get their support."

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#151 Eddie Shore
May 24 2010, 06:59PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

As good as Asham?

Even with decent offensive numbers later in his career, Asham, now 32, is minus-34 through 11 seasons. Stortini is minus-4 through four seasons. Is there an advantage there?

Stortini is 24 turning 25 in September. Asham had his best offensive season -- 15-19-34 -- in 2002-03 at the age of 25. Again, though, despite better offensive numbers, Asham gives up more than he gets.

I'd suggest Stortini will be a more useful player in a fourth-line role from the age of 25 on than Asham has been.

Speaking of which, I think he's having a great game.

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#152 RossCreekNation
May 24 2010, 07:38PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Zack's only broken 5 goals once (six), and he hasn't even broken 10 assists yet, a long ways off Asham's career year #'s. I think you're selling Asham a little short... I've liked him since his Rebel days and always thought he was one of the few Islander players that would interest me via trade. He's a perfect 4th line guy IMO, and if Zack can be as good as him over the next 6 or 8 years, the Oilers have a player. While I think Zack has grown quite a bit as a player since day one, I don't see him being as good as Asham ever was. Just my opinion...

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#153 Oil_Loc8or
May 24 2010, 08:36PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

Zack's only broken 5 goals once (six), and he hasn't even broken 10 assists yet, a long ways off Asham's career year #'s. I think you're selling Asham a little short... I've liked him since his Rebel days and always thought he was one of the few Islander players that would interest me via trade. He's a perfect 4th line guy IMO, and if Zack can be as good as him over the next 6 or 8 years, the Oilers have a player. While I think Zack has grown quite a bit as a player since day one, I don't see him being as good as Asham ever was. Just my opinion...

I don't think we will be expecting Stortini to get many points if he is a 4th line player. I like your gravatar Toews is a machine.

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#154 RossCreekNation
May 24 2010, 08:54PM
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@Oil_Loc8or

I grew up idolizing Steve Yzerman & Joe Sakic. Jonathan Toews is my new hero (and I'm too old for hero's). Maybe that's why I lean toward guys like Matt Duchene & Tyler Seguin over John Tavares & Taylor Hall.

Must be something to the number... I love me some 19 (even Joe Thornton & Jason Spezza).

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#155 Oil_Loc8or
May 24 2010, 09:10PM
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@RossCreekNation

I was with you until you mentioned Thorton and Spezza. I think Toews is in the top three forwards in the world right now.

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#156 RossCreekNation
May 24 2010, 09:14PM
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@Oil_Loc8or

Obviously not putting them in the same tier as the others... just mentioning a couple other #19's that I've liked (especially throughout their first few years).

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#157 Oil_Loc8or
May 24 2010, 09:26PM
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Backstrom, POS ? ( joking )

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#159 Mitch
May 24 2010, 10:46PM
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Robin I think the Malkin rumors were crazy, but would you consider a package for Stall from Pittsburgh? I wouldn't move MPS or #1 overall but any other player would be moveable. I think it would help improve Pittsburgh's forward depth and give the Oilers needed size and skill.

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#160 hardrocker
May 24 2010, 11:02PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Who says Quinn is coaching?

And if he is, there are plenty of tough guys who look like Pavel Bure compared to Steve MacIntyre, who simply can't get around well enough to satisfy Quinn's "must be able to play" edict.

Hardrocker: How do you know what King does in the off-season and what his training regimen is, even if you're in the same town as him? He fights in the bars? Is that third-party gossip? You hang out with him? You "heard" from somebody who knows somebody who hangs out with him?

I don't know of many NHL players in this day and age who make a habit of getting into bar fights. There's way too many big mouths who start whining publicly hoping for a pay day when they get the ass-kicking they asked for and even the slighest indicretion ends up public thanks to cell phone cameras etc etc.

This town is only 5000 people. Ever lived in a town like this? There are more than 3 times the total population of this town at an oilers game at any time.

Only one gym in town. I have been a member for more than 10 years. I see him at the gym. Not hard to see his training regimen. The bars? Only ever one bar at a time that is busy in this area. Not hard to spot anyone out of the 100 people out at any given point.

This is not a city, if you havent lived in a small town, maybe try it. City life is very different. Don't need much "third-party-gossip" here. Very easy to see for yourself.

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#162 Tyler
May 25 2010, 12:17AM
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You have to treat +/- with caution. All the credit in the world to Stortini, who's earned an NHL career on effort rather than talent, but he's had the benefit of the bounces in a lot of his seasons. The on-ice shooting percentage for him this year was 9.7% and the on-ice save percentage was .937. Last year it was 13% (!) and .892 and the year before it was 9.8% and .933. League average in these situations is about 8% and .920. With the guys lower down the lineup, the save percentage and shooting percentage tend to get lower/higher respectively - 4th liners tend not to have real finish or play guys with real finish.

I'm not really sold on Stortini as a guy who has real finish. If you were to ask me to bet the percentages for him going forward, I'd bet something like the 7%/.930 mix. Even with more time on the ice, it wouldn't surprise me if he's already had his best year as far as the counting numbers go. The more serious problem with him is that he just gets bombed out there in terms of shots. Even being hidden, it's still bombs away for the other team. He's the kind of guy who's popular with the fans on crappy teams but who doesn't have a job on good ones.

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#164 BUCK75
May 25 2010, 08:01AM
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As far as I'm concerned it depends on who is coaching & how much George would be paid.

Stortini was a more effective player when MacIntyre played here briefly. If Stortini doesn't feel like he has to be the guy fighting all time he is an effective player.

It could be a win win. Like a few other people have posted a guy who feels like he has something to prove could be a good fit here. Having a young line up most likely this season If he signed like Robin suggested for a minimum contract I would have no problem with it.

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#165 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 08:38AM
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@BUCK75

I don't think Robin suggested that the Oilers would sign him, just if they did it would be for 1 season and at league minimum, responding to a question / comment another reader wrote.

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#166 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 08:39AM
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No comments on Peter Pocklington from the Nation followers ? Or Yzerman becoming the new GM in Tampa ? I say good for Yzerman I wish him well seems like a good guy and was one hell of a good player. Why can't they throw Pocklington in jail already ?

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Good article, but no mention of how his teammates were getting frustrated with him trying to change people into vegans?

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@Oil_Loc8or

It's BS that Pocklington is getting off, 6 months house arrest? I think it's a joke that all he is getting is a slap on a wrist when he was facing 10 years in jail.

Yzerman, well I like that he was learning from the best but I don't know that because he won gold with a 155mil roster that he is the best candidate for the job. Maybe he is, I guess he needs to get a start somewhere.

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#169 Let's Rebuild
May 25 2010, 10:21AM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

No comments on Peter Pocklington from the Nation followers ? Or Yzerman becoming the new GM in Tampa ? I say good for Yzerman I wish him well seems like a good guy and was one hell of a good player. Why can't they throw Pocklington in jail already ?

I was just thinking of the first conversation Yzerman has with Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Stamkos: "Hey you guys are great players, not Olypmic great or I would have chosen you, but you are still great."

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#170 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 10:31AM
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Is there a reason that the NHL players from the 80's are GMs in the league now ? With all the money invested don't you think that the owners would hire guys with a financial backround etc ? I haven't nothing against Yzerman or anyother Gm just always have wondered this.

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#171 Archaeologuy
May 25 2010, 10:34AM
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@Oil_Loc8or

You need business guys but at the end of the day the guy in charge needs to understand the Hockey aspects the most. The business savvy peeps get to be assistant GMs.

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@Archaeologuy

X2. I keep hearing that teams should hire lawyers as GM's, why? Just because they know the law and can probably read the CBA doesn't mean that they can figure out what kind of players to draft or trade for, or what kind of staff they need to help them make a better team.

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#173 Senator Theo
May 25 2010, 11:08AM
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@Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

I'm going to go the other way on this. The GM position needs to be filled with someone that can think strategically and can plan long term for the organization, in addition to being able to interpret and understand legal documents, negotiate contracts, etc.

My thoughts are to put the business mind there, and surround him with hockey knowledge/advisors.

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#174 Cowbell_Feva
May 25 2010, 11:34AM
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@Oil_Loc8or

If you had read the post it wasn't rocket science.

I said when watching the Oilers play outside of Edmonton-and outside of any biased views- those hockey fans see Stortini for who he is...A BUM!

Saying that, it is embarassing to be an Oilers fan because he is just that- a bum. It wasn't that way when Georgie was patrolling because he was feared- not laughed at!

The effort is there no doubt, unfortunately after Pee-Wee hockey foot speed and skillset become a neccessity to be a pro.

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#175 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 11:50AM
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Cowbell_Feva wrote:

If you had read the post it wasn't rocket science.

I said when watching the Oilers play outside of Edmonton-and outside of any biased views- those hockey fans see Stortini for who he is...A BUM!

Saying that, it is embarassing to be an Oilers fan because he is just that- a bum. It wasn't that way when Georgie was patrolling because he was feared- not laughed at!

The effort is there no doubt, unfortunately after Pee-Wee hockey foot speed and skillset become a neccessity to be a pro.

Ok, and you're still saying that it is embarassing to be an Oiler fan and calling Stortini a BUM!! What do you want from me, a pat on the back " it will be ok ", those guys are just being mean. So you don't like Stortini and you like George I'm ok with that, but re-read your post since it wasn't rocket science and you've just repeated it again. Do you really think that players are feared or laughed at ? Players respect anyone that is in that role. Maybe the fans laugh since they don't respect the job those players do.

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#176 Cowbell_Feva
May 25 2010, 12:32PM
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@Oil_Loc8or

I don't want anything from you, most defintely not a pat on the back...I have broad shoulders. Not sure where you got that I wanted anything from you to be completely honest.

Your most obviously under a bleed-Oiler-copper n' blue-umbrella that taints your perception on the realities of the game of hockey. I was,am, and always will be an Oiler fan- but that doesn't mean I'm delusional.

To answer the question of whether players are feared or laughed at- its BOTH. There are 4th line plugs that do get respect around the league because they play hard, they fight, but are NOT slower than Hal Gill skating backwards, and can actually stick-handle. (I'm refering to Zach-attack here). This is what separates the respected guys, from the guys that are most obviously OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE, or laughed at.

OH, and if you think other teams players respect Stortini (not the role in hockey- HIM) you really are out to lunch!!

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#177 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 12:52PM
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@Cowbell_Feva

So Stortini isn't respected by NHL players, was George a great skater or could he stick handle ?. Your pee wee comment is funny ( Wondering if you just finished your first year of Pee Wee ) ~looks at other posts from guys that aren't actually delusional~

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#178 Archaeologuy
May 25 2010, 12:52PM
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For me, Stortini is a fine 4th liner with occasional 3rd line potential. I dont think he has peewee skating or skills. He does his job well enough for me.

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#179 Cowbell_Feva
May 25 2010, 01:05PM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

So Stortini isn't respected by NHL players, was George a great skater or could he stick handle ?. Your pee wee comment is funny ( Wondering if you just finished your first year of Pee Wee ) ~looks at other posts from guys that aren't actually delusional~

George is by no means a smooth skater, but he could get up and go @ twice the pace Stortini can. That and he was the toughest SOB in the league. At least he excelled in one area!

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#180 Cowbell_Feva
May 25 2010, 01:07PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

For me, Stortini is a fine 4th liner with occasional 3rd line potential. I dont think he has peewee skating or skills. He does his job well enough for me.

If you think Stortini has NHL skating abilities you need to watch more games outside of Rexall. Cory Cross could come out of retirement and still beat him.

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#181 Archaeologuy
May 25 2010, 01:13PM
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@Cowbell_Feva

I get it, you dont like Stortini. I dont think he's that bad. I'll try to keep a better eye out next season to see just how bad he is.

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#182 Oil_Loc8or
May 25 2010, 01:17PM
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@Cowbell_Feva

Yeah George is a tough SOB I haven't denied that. Did you watch George skate or just fight cause George played about four mins a game on his best nights for a reason. Stortini can play on the 3rd line if needed and never puts the team in a disadvantage while on the ice. Doesn't run around taking stupid penalties. He plays smart hockey dump and chase, what more do we need from a 4th line player. Also Stortini FIGHTS for his teammates not the fans.

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#183 Cowbell_Feva
May 25 2010, 01:54PM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

Yeah George is a tough SOB I haven't denied that. Did you watch George skate or just fight cause George played about four mins a game on his best nights for a reason. Stortini can play on the 3rd line if needed and never puts the team in a disadvantage while on the ice. Doesn't run around taking stupid penalties. He plays smart hockey dump and chase, what more do we need from a 4th line player. Also Stortini FIGHTS for his teammates not the fans.

FIGHTS is a bit misleading....the moniker Huggy-Bear doesn't get given to guys who actually throw punches.

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#184 Max Powers - Team HME Evans
May 26 2010, 05:31AM
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@Cowbell_Feva

I'd like to see you talk all this trash to huggy bears face.

Storts is a legit NHL player, been in the league full time for 3 or 4 years. Regardless of your assessment on Stortini, real-life actual hockey professionals think he's good enough to be penciled in on an NHL roster as a regular and that's more than thousands of hockey players trying to make it to the bigs can say.

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