As he raised the trophy high above his head, Zack Stortini let out a celebratory howl. For the second time in his career, the Sudburian was a Calder Cup champion.
Originally drafted 94th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2003, the former Sudbury Wolves captain spent the better part of five seasons in the NHL before playing the last nine seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL).
It was more than a decade ago when he first won the Calder with the Hamilton Bulldogs. At that time, Stortini was at a different place in his life and career.
After getting his first taste of NHL action in the latter half of the 2006-07 season, he returned to the Bulldogs for a lengthy playoff run, which culminated with Hamilton winning the championship for the first time in club history.
As a newly minted pro, it was an auspicious way for the pugnacious winger to start his hockey career.
Twelve years later, there may be a speckling of grey hairs in Stortini’s beard now, but the feeling that comes with hoisting the Calder Cup is something that hasn’t changed.
“You enjoy the championship equally as much but in different ways,” he recently reflected. “It’s been an exciting time and you’re always grateful to have an opportunity to be a part of a group like that and to win.”
Although Stortini did not have the chance to lace them up for the Charlotte Checkers’ playoff run, he remained an integral part of the team. There is perhaps no greater testament of his importance to the club than when the celebrations began on the ice shortly after the Checkers clinched the championship on the evening of June 8.
After captain Patrick Brown received the Calder Cup from AHL President David Andrews, he was immediately surrounded by his jubilant teammates. Once the mob dissipated, in keeping with hockey tradition, Brown first bestowed the trophy to a deserving teammate.
Handing it off to Stortini, who has been a fan favourite in Charlotte, may have been an easy choice for the captain, but it was a humbling experience for the hardnosed veteran.
“It meant the world to me,” Stortini said. “He could have chosen any number of guys on that team, but for him to choose me is very special and I’m very thankful and grateful that he thinks of me in that regard.”
While Stortini may not have been on the ice with his teammates throughout the postseason, he had one of the best seats in the house. After getting the opportunity to do some colour commentary during the regular season with team broadcaster Jason Chaya, Stortini found himself in the booth more frequently during the playoffs.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be up there and relay your excitement as both a fan and a teammate to some of those guys,” he said.
Not only did it give Stortini a great vantage point, it also gave him the chance to share his insights and highlight the skill and personalities of the players on the team.
“They’re just great human beings,” he said. “To be able to share that information with the fans listening at home is a great opportunity and something I really enjoyed doing.”
He doesn’t know what the next season may hold, but given how much he enjoyed his time in the broadcast booth, Stortini isn’t ruling out a career in broadcasting.
“You’re always looking to get better, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice,” he said. “You always want to improve. It’s something I really enjoyed doing.”
Before he decides his future in hockey, there are more celebrations ahead. Much like how NHL players get their day with the Stanley Cup, it’s no different in the American League. Every player from the championship-winning team gets a homecoming with the Calder. I
n 2007, Stortini brought it back to Sudbury and spent the day at the Yacht Club, where his aunt is a member.
He hopes he will get the opportunity again this time around, but isn’t sure where he will bring it just yet.
Wherever he brings it, one thing is for certain, Stortini is coming home as a two-time Calder Cup champion, an accomplishment that no other Sudburian can lay claim to.
Mike Commito is the Team Historian for the Sudbury Wolves, writer for the LA Kings, and author of Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice. Follow him on Twitter @mikecommito