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Stortini clan provides a progressive pipeline to coaching

Another member of the Stortini clan enters the coaching ranks and very few heads are turned.

This is, after all, something of a family affair.

Following three years of OHL (then OHA) hockey split between the Sudbury Wolves and St Catharines Black Hawks, Tim Stortini would eventually make his way behind the bench, guiding hockey teams at a whole variety of levels.

In recent years, his coaching resume has included leading the Sudbury Midget AA Lady Wolves to an Esso Cup appearance, and subsequently taking the Nickel City Major Peewee Sons to an all-Ontario AAA championship tournament.

Hanging up his skates following a 14-year pro hockey career that featured more than 250 games in the NHL, son Zack was brought aboard, soon thereafter, by the team he once captained, joining Cory Stillman on the Sudbury Wolves staff prior to the start of the 2019-2020 campaign.

So news of Samantha Stortini stepping up to tackle a team of her own is hardly surprising.

But the fact that she was named as head coach of the Nickel City U15 AAA Sons this past off-season is something you don't see every day.

And while this might seem like a big undertaking for her first foray as the primary voice in the ears of her players, Stortini sees the timing as ideal, especially with her father staying aboard in a mentorship role.

"I find that my dad has really given me the reins this year and pushed me to run everything, with him there helping, a different capacity than he was last year," noted the 31 year-old graduate of Lockerby Composite. "I'm running the practices, explaining the drills and all that kind of stuff."

"He's taken on a more assistant coaching position, talking to the kids, individually, after a drill. He's enjoying that as well, still having the chance to teach the kids, but knowing that he's also there to support me, while letting me run the show."

In fact, much like her brother, Samantha is something of a born leader, serving as the assistant captain of the Brown University Bears (NCAA) in her junior year and ascending to the greater responsibility in her final year, proudly wearing the "C".

"I am definitely a more vocal captain and I like being in a leadership position," she said. "I like teaching, I like running things. My time there helped me learn how to deal with different personalities."

Returning home following her four year sojourn in Rhode Island, Stortini has been a regular at practices for pretty much every single team that her dad has coached in the past decade or so. Understandably, family dinners can be highly entertaining, though Ruth (Samantha's mother) must most certainly roll her eyes, from time to time.

"My mom certainly knows the game - but she's not coaching," stated Samantha, with a laugh. "We will often share ideas about our strategies, how to deal with certain personalities. We all have our own ideas and we're all willing to share those ideas."

Still, each will stake out their own territory, forming their own unique identity as a coach.

"My dad is definitely a tougher coach than me," said Samantha, though she did acknowledge that he might not be quite as tough now as he was when he stood behind the bench of her Sudbury Lady Wolves teams, back in her playing days.

"I'm the same, in that I want to push the kids to be the best that they can be, but I am perhaps not as rough."

And where Samantha was a stay at home defenseman who would assert herself into the rush, from time to time, Tim logged most of his ice-time as a forward. "I know the game, where the players are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing, but with little tips on being a forward, it's really helpful to have my dad there," she said.

"I'm learning from him, at the same time."

As for working with young men in their early teenage years, Stortini admits to sensing a slight difference in the atmosphere as she addresses the local prospects. "They are all very respectful," she said. "They listen, and they want to learn. But there's not as much joking around with me."

Still, whether it be teaching male or female athletes, there is plenty of cross-over. Coaches in both camps are dealing with the challenges created by the pandemic. "The kids really want to learn, but it is hard without the games right now," said Stortini. "You want to make sure that everyone is working hard, but also having fun."

"If they're not having fun, it's tough to stay motivated in practice. I think it's really important for these kids to know that there is a future in hockey and that it's important to work towards something, even in these different times."

The game, of course, is constantly evolving. In as much as the junior hockey that Tim and Zack played is not the same product that we hope, at some point, to see back on the ice, the same could be said for the women's game.

"Players are faster and more skilled, with better hands," said Samantha. "In the past, you might be able to get away with just being rough and tough. Now, you have to have all of the skills."

And though this new venture is both exciting and intriguing, Samantha Stortini understands that her long-term plans in coaching might follow a different path completely. "Coaching is something that I really enjoy doing and I would like to stay in," she said. "Just being on the ice gets the fire inside me burning."

"At the end of the day, I will probably end up on the girls side of things, just because I am a woman. But the opportunity for the boys team was here now, and I thought I could gain a lot of experience."

That sounds very much like something that a Stortini just might do.

Sudbury Wolves