As mentioned in the latest Updates from the Hockey World post, I mentioned that Georges Laraque spent some time with Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre. The official Oilers site has an interview up with Laraque in which he talks about the importance of those two guys on the Oilers and goes in depth to defend Stortini from some of the big critics.
“Hockey wise, I’m really impressed,” said Laraque, of Stortini. “Zack is a hell of a player. He can play on the third line easy and be a good checker and stuff. He can skate. Zack is a guy, in my mind, that should be playing every game”.
Laraque also defended Stortini from those who accuse him of hugging too much. “If people think that he hugs too much, then why don’t they go out there and fight? When he fights a heavyweight guy my size, (he) can’t go and fight open because (he’s) going to get killed. The goal of a fight is not necessarily to open up and fight open because if you lose, then what’s the point of it? You know, you have to protect yourself. ”
“The biggest thing is about showing up; standing up for your teammates,” Laraque explains. “It’s not necessarily the result because even if you come in and hug the guy a bit because he’s bigger than you, you’re still showing up for him; showing that you don’t accept this and you want to do the job. We’ve had guys in the past in Edmonton that wouldn’t fight at all and that was a bigger issue.”
Last year, Stortini led the league in fighting majors, and Big Georges took notice. “He’s a league leader ever year in fighting majors and fighting takes a toll out of you and stuff. It’s really hard. And fighting 25 times a year and playing the way he does, I admire him.” That’s a pretty big compliment coming from the man that many regard as the league’s best fighter.
Laraque continued to explain the necessity of enforcers in the league today, recalling Minnesota Wild forward Derek Boogaard’s effectiveness against the Oilers in past years when the Oilers did not have an enforcer. “It’s proven that when a tough guy like Boogaard plays the Oilers and if there is no one in the line up (that can fight him), he’s going to run around a bit more. And he used to be more effective than Gaborik against the Oilers because he would take all the skill guys out and nobody was there to respond to it.”
Personally, I really like Stortini because for a guy in his role, he very rarely makes stupid mistakes or takes bad penalties. Most of his penalties that he takes, there is someone else (generally seen as being more valuable) going to the box with him on the other team. He also can play. Having a tough guy on your team that can actually play the game… well that’s pretty hard to come by.
I must admit, the way I defend Stortini sometimes, you might think I am his mother. I haven’t always been a fan of his, though. There was a brief moment at the beginning of the season where I thought the Oilers should waive him once they had MacIntyre. But really, Zack Stortini stepped up his game big time and showed how important he is to the team outside of fighting. You may not like his fighting style, but I don’t think anyone would criticize his gamesmanship. He’s a great guy to have on any team. He’s also been touted as being a quick learner by coaches at various levels, and for that reason I am looking forward to seeing Laraque’s lessons put to good use.