by Nicole Delvillano | AHL On The Beat Archive
Binghamton Senators captain Zack Stortini is no stranger to the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena or its fans, but he is a bit more used to being on the receiving end of the yelling.
After spending parts of nine seasons in the American Hockey League, the 30-year-old forward was signed to a two-year contract with the Ottawa Senators during the offseason and joined Binghamton this fall. Fan reaction brought memories of him as a tough opponent that challenged the B-Sens physically numerous times and an opponent that was constantly ranked at the top of the AHL for penalty minutes.
Stortini had his own memories of his visits to Binghamton.
“It’s a great atmosphere to play in,” said Stortini. “It’s always a tough building to play in because of the fans… they bring a tremendous atmosphere to the rink every game.”
As Stortini prepared to join the B-Sens, his future teammates took notice of the acquisition, as did head coach Luke Richardson.
“Just playing against him a couple times last year we knew what we were getting — a physical guy,” said Richardson.
While Stortini is known as a physical player, he is also someone who was set to be more than an enforcer for the B-Sens.
“I saw him this summer and heard a lot of good things about him from his old coach in Lehigh Valley,” added Richardson. “He’s had a lot of experience, so he has that leadership quality for a lot of the young guys here and that’s tremendous.”
Stortini’s hockey career started as a boy in Elliot Lake, Ont., with his father coaching him growing up and his mother helping alongside the team. Stortini’s sister, Samantha, also played hockey and went on to play for Brown University.
“As a professional hockey player, you are always put on your path for your career through people that help you along the way,” said Stortini. “I think it may be a stereotypical answer when I say my parents have done a lot for me, like drive me to early morning practices. They were always there for me, very supportive, and I was very lucky that way.”
Growing up with local players to look up to like Todd Bertuzzi and Andrew Brunette, Stortini moved onto play for Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League for four years before being selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the third round of the 2003 National Hockey League Draft.
Stortini has gone on to play 257 games in the NHL with Edmonton and Nashville, as well as more than 450 games in the American Hockey League over 11 pro seasons.
“You never forget the people that help you out along the way. There are so many people that get you to your dream,” Stortini said. “It’s a battle every day to get better. Not just in games, but to practices and workouts also. It’s something that I enjoy the competition and makes it fun, but it makes it very challenging as well.”
Stortini has taken the help he has gotten along the way and brought it to help his teammates’ game to grow and his team to succeed.
“For me, leading both on and off the ice by example [is what I do],” he said. “By playing hard every night and being ready to play focused, [you] hope it rubs off on the younger guys. Off the ice it’s about being a pro and being prepared to make sure you’re ready to play. It’s doing my job to the very best of my ability.”
The Binghamton Senators coaching staff took notice of his ability to lead and be a good example and brought it into account when it came time to name the captains for the team.
“He was right on the top of the list for one of the captains, and I talked to a few other players that had been here last year and everybody thought it was a good choice,” said Richardson, who named Stortini captain on Oct. 10. “He’s worn the ‘A’ and been a leader in this league. We just thought it was a natural choice.”
The staff has seen both Stortini and the other players step up to help each other during the season.
“It’s the little intangibles that help the coaches,” said Richardson. “We don’t have a lot of time for one-on-one with every single player, every day, and you count on the veterans to help out in those areas.”
The respect is mutual when it comes to how the Stortini views his new coaching staff.
“We have great role models in our coaching staff. I learn from Luke and (assistant coaches) Steve Stirling and Tim Marks every day and try to be like a sponge and soak up all the knowledge they have both on and off the ice,” said Stortini. “All the guys in that room would go through a brick wall for [Richardson].”
Despite a slow start to the B-Sens season, both the captain and coach have similar outlooks when it comes to moving forward. A combination of the drive and leadership from the young prospects, the returning veterans and the newly acquired players from the offseason will help bring Binghamton over this slump.
“Some of those older guys, like Stortini, give a little bit of a calmness that there’s still a lot of way to go,” Richardson said. “That’s the attitude that they are showing, and they don’t panic. They help the young guys settle their nerves and just play.
“I think you will see the older guys persevere in the second half and they have to bring those young guys with them. That’s what we are counting on from Zack.”