Zack Stortini looks down at his massive, gnarled hands. He takes a deep breath and pauses for reflection. Those hands are literally his bread and butter. They are extensions of his heart and will.
This has kept him in the tough world of professional hockey for the last nine seasons. Now, entering his 10th year as a pro hockey player, Stortini has only one goal in mind: get back to the National Hockey League.
It has been nothing but a constant challenge for Stortini to keep living his dream. The former Sudbury Wolves captain and Greater Sudbury boy earned his way into the NHL thanks to work ethic and willingness to fight and crash and bang — not an easy way to carve out a living.
Stortini wouldn’t have it any other way. It keeps him honest. It keeps him hungry and, most certainly, keeps him going.
“I’m always going to be hard to play against,” the 28-year-old said. “I do what I do because I love to play hockey.”
Stortini has 257 career NHL games on his resume with Edmonton and Nashville. He has 14 goals and 41 points along with 725 penalty minutes. He has spent the last three seasons playing in the American Hockey League with Milwaukee, Hamilton and Norfolk.
Last season, with Norfolk, Stortini piled up 299 penalty minutes in 73 games. It was the most penalty minutes he has ever accumulated in one season in all his years playing major junior and professional hockey.
Stortini signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in July.
His fire to play the game has never been hotter. He always has to prove himself.
“My goal is to find a permanent home in the NHL,” Stortini said. “I hope Philadelphia is the place. I believe my style of game will fit in with the organization.”
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, with wild and scraggly long hair and a few missing teeth, Stortini strikes an imposing presence.
Not only does he have an intimidating appearance, but also an all-out approach and attitude to the game and his teams. There is nothing he will not do to play hockey, or for his teammates.
Stortini has always been a big boy. Playing the role of protector and enforcer for smaller players is one he knows well. At any given time in a game, he knows he will be called upon to take care of business, putting his fists to work to right a wrong on the ice, to keep opponents honest, to stop them taking liberties with his mates.
Fights in pro hockey can be savage. The athletes are anything but wimps, especially those who make a living fighting. Again, it is a tough way to earn a living.
Stortini accepted it a long time ago.
“I grew up with it,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 14 years. It is what it is. Fighting is a part of my job.”
Stortini comes home to Sudbury each summer. He works out with a handful of other Sudbury-based NHL players and prospects at RHP Training Centre to stay at the top of his game. Stortini heads to the Philadelphia pro training camp the first week of September.
He is anxious to get started and make a solid first impression with the Philly brass.
“It is a privilege to play in the NHL,” he said. “(And) it is difficult to … stay in it. It takes a lot of work. The battle to get better never ends.”
For a man whose fought as many battles as Stortini, that's a lesson paid for in blood and bruises, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
It is, after all, his job.