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Monday, Oct. 22, 2018
Hockey vagabonds abound
by Randy Pascal

The hockey vagabond is an interesting breed.

Travelling from one destination to the next, following the dream, they seldom set up roots, unable to refer to any single location as “home” for an extended period of time. Interestingly enough, the age spectrum of this species can be a large one, typically geared to the particular phase of the athlete’s career on the ice.

Son of former NHLer and Sudbury native Brian Savage, Ryan Savage’s journey is still in its infancy, relatively speaking. Born in Montreal just months after the turn of the millennium, the 5’10” forward spent most of the formative years of his youth introduced to hockey in Arizona.

On the radar, more recently, with the US National Development program, Savage would head overseas last fall, spending the 2016-2017 campaign, with his father, as part of the Red Bull Academy in Austria. “Playing in Europe, it’s a completely different playing field than in North America,” he suggested last week, shortly after leaving the ice of the Gerry McCrory Sports Complex with the bulk of local pro hockey talent at his side.

“It was completely different than anywhere else that I had ever played. They don’t play as physical, they’re more of a skill-based game. I was hoping to get my skating worked on, my small area skills, because that’s what they work on the most over there.”

The 2017-2018 season will bring another fork in the road of hockey that Savage is following, suiting up with the Fargo Force of the USHL, calling North Dakota home for at least one winter. From there, he has already committed to pursuing the same opportunity as did his father, looking forward to developing in the NCAA ranks at Miami University of Ohio in 2018.

Savage would get his feet wet with the Force last year, suiting up in six games. “It’s one of the best towns in the USHL,” he said. “It’s been a great atmosphere every time I have played there so far.” As for the college that will take the handoff from Fargo a year from now, the instructions to their young prospect were fairly straight-forward.

“They just said to play your game and try and do the best that you can, go out there and show that you can play,” said Savage. Based on the evidence, the kid can indeed play. Savage was one of 42 players invited to participate in the prestigious 2017 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo on September 21st.

Forty of the forty-two players in the lineup have already committed to NCAA programs, including the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Bode Wilde and Quinton Hughes, all projected first round picks in the 2018 NHL draft.

“It’s probably one of my biggest accomplishments,” suggested Savage. “Youth Olympics was pretty fun, but I think for a single event, this is pretty important for me. Being named as one of the top prospects in the US is huge for me, and I’m very proud to represent my country.”

Zack Stortini can recall being every bit as excited about the future that hockey would hold, right around the same time that Ryan Savage was born. Signing on with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL this summer, the Sudbury Wolves alumnus will be making the 13th different stop of his pro career, a stretch that included 257 NHL games spent primarily with the Edmonton Oilers.

Just a week or so shy of his 32nd birthday, Stortini is blessed with eternal optimism, the ability to see the opportunity that lies within each and every curve that the sport he loves has thrown his way. “I look at it as a great experience,” he said, joining Nick and Marcus Foligno, Andrew Desjardins and the younger crew on the ice last week.

“You get to see different parts of the country, different teams, meeting new people. It’s a lot of fun, I still enjoy it, even after playing this many years. I’m going to play as long as I can – there’s no timeline. I realize that you can’t be doing this forever and, sooner or later, the calls will stop coming in.”

After spending the 2016-2017 campaign split between the Binghamton Senators and San Jose Barracudas, Stortini will make his way to North Carolina this month, with no lack of familiar faces awaiting his arrival.

“The coach that’s there, Mike Vellucci, has a great reputation,” stated the 6’4” forward, most noted for the physical presence that he brings to the team. “Obviously, we’ve crossed paths from our OHL days and seen each other there. And I got some great feedback from people here in Sudbury who have been part of that organization.”

“Hockey is a small world,” Stortini continued. “The general manager, Rick Olczyk, was in Edmonton when I was there. Any time you can work with good people that care and are passionate about the game, and are looking to help you out, that’s a situation you want to be part of.”

As for his summer workouts, Stortini has not diverted a whole lot from the approach that allowed him to initially carve out a niche in the National Hockey League. “If you’re not taking a step forward, you’re moving back,” he said. “For me, it’s great skating out here with the local guys. We have a great skate, getting in better shape and working on little things, working on my skills.”

“As the game changes and adapts to the new rules, you try, as a player, to change with it,” he added. “It keeps things interesting.” And in the world of the hockey vagabond, that is half the fun.

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