The American Hockey League has announced that the 2019-20 AHL regular season will be paused for the safety of its players, employees, and fans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On January 25, the Barracuda were at a pivotal point in their season. They had lost the first two games of a season-long seven-game road trip and had a game that night in Stockton against the Heat before traveling out to Grand Rapids and Milwaukee to face the top-two teams in the Central Division.
San Jose won the game in Stockton in convincing fashion, 5-0, but the third period teetered on out of control as both teams combined for well over 100-plus penalty minutes.
At the time, San Jose was the youngest team in the League, but two veteran AHLer’s were set to join the club in Grand Rapids for the upcoming weekend. Zach Stortini and Buddy Robinson were two of the three pieces, the third a draft pick, acquired from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Sharks fourth-line forward Tommy Wingels on January 24.
Although somewhat unknown, Stortini and Robinson had attributes that San Jose lacked on their roster; size and experience.
Stortini instantly became the club's elder statesman. At 31-years-old, and 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, the 12-year vet was San Jose's oldest player and its most experienced. Over his career, Stortini has played 257 games in the NHL totaling 41 points (14+27+31), a minus-six rating and 725 penalty minutes, while also logging 539 games in the AHL, 107 points (53+54=107), a minus-39 rating and 1616 total penalty minutes.
Robinson, a rangy 6-foot-5 winger, with a tremendous skating ability for his size has played seven games in the NHL all with the Ottawa, tallying two points (1+1=2), a plus-two rating and six penalty minutes while also playing 236 AHL games played with Binghamton registering 104 points (49+49=104), plus-39 and 210 penalty minutes.
Since Robinson and Stortini’s inception into the San Jose lineup the team has not lost, a perfect 11-0. Each player’s skillset has fit perfectly in San Jose's system and within the dressing room.
In 11 games, Robinson has totaled six points (3+3=6) and has found a home on a line with Rourke Chartier and Adam Helewka. While Stortini has added an intimidating fourth line presence that has allowed for San Jose’s highly-skilled young forwards to play their game knowing they’ll be protected.
“Robinson is a real big kid that can skate, score goals, and kill penalties and he’s done a really good job for us, and Stortini has been around the game, he's been a Captain, and he keeps everyone in it,” said Head Coach Roy Sommer.
In the first game against the Heat since January 25, Stortini applied a huge open-ice hit on Stockton’s Rasmus Andersson last Friday, February 17 that led to a center-ice fight between Stortini and Ryan Lomberg. The message was sent at that moment, you won't mess with this young team without paying the price.
“I’m a big guy and a physical presence on the ice, I’m a guy that likes to stir things up, but at the same time I’m able to play the game too, and I think I can contribute in all areas of the ice,” said Stortini in an interview on January 28 in Milwaukee.
The Barracuda look to continue their 12-game winning streak in Tucson this weekend before returning to the Bay Area to take on the Texas Stars on Wednesday at Soloar4America Ice.
“To be on a team that’s rolling at this point of the season is really fun and a good feeling the locker room,” said Robinson who has only made the playoffs once during his three-year pro career.
As San Jose challenges for the best record in the AHL, Robinson, and Stortini will be vital components of that quest and another weapon for Head Coach Roy Sommer to go to down the stretch.