Tom Sestito’s always had the will, now getting chance to show skill


Vancouver’s Tom Sestito duked it out with the Flames’ Brian McGrattan on Dec. 29 in Calgary.

Vancouver’s Tom Sestito duked it out with the Flames’ Brian McGrattan on Dec. 29 in Calgary.

Photograph by: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald

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It’s easy to have a soft spot for Tom Sestito.

The big lug has his teammates’ backs. He sports a big goofy smile. And his more prominent role through the Vancouver Canucks’ spate of injuries and indifferent play has allowed the one-dimensional fourth-line enforcer to accept several roles: Second-liner. Power-play net presence. Puck dangler.

One of the club’s most-improved players through improved conditioning, Sestito is answering the knock of opportunity to do more for John Tortorella.

“I would love that — that’s what I dream of,” said Sestito. “I don’t dream of being a fourth-line guy my whole career. I’m looking for my opportunity and hopefully seize it. I’m still there to stir something up if it’s needed. I’m not looking to just go out and fight their heavyweight, but I’m throwing my body around.”

When Sestito showed up on the second line and first power-play unit Sunday in Anaheim, it was more about Chris Higgins having the flu, but Sestito tipped home a man-advantage goal and had three shots plus three hits in a season-high 16:16 of ice time.

Then, on Tuesday against Pittsburgh, it was about earning the right to stay on the alignments because David Booth was a healthy scratch — along with Dale Weise — and Sestito wasn’t looking out of place. He nearly scored a highlight-reel goal against the Penguins in a 5-4 shootout loss, with a backhand-to-forehand dangle that went just wide in the third period. He also had a game-high seven hits.

Known for his rock-hard hands with a league-high 11 fights this season, Sestito has a soft touch, too. He had 42 OHL goals in the 2006-07 season, playing on a line with Pittsburgh’s James Neal, and helped propel the Plymouth Whalers to a Memorial Cup semfinal berth at the Pacific Coliesum. And his first two NHL goals were against Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

“They (hands) are there,” said Sestito, who has four goals this season and had an 11-goal AHL campaign in 2010-11. “I played a lot of power play in the AHL and was on the top line. I had my hands, but the role I’ve been put in, you don’t get to try that in the bottom four (fourth line). You don’t even want to try that. If you turn the puck over, you might be sitting on the bench.

“This is a different role and as a power forward, we still need secondary scoring, so if you can try something, you try something.”

That’s what Tortorella has been asking for. Bring something to the table and do it on a consistent basis. It’s why Booth and Weise sat Tuesday night and why their status is uncertain Friday against St. Louis. The Canucks coach isn’t sure whether the recalled Darren Archibald is the right fit to face the Blues because of his inexperience in the system, but he does know the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Sestito has the will.

And that’s as important as skill.

“It’s not about running people through the wall, it’s about being hard to play against,” said Tortorella. “Tommy is probably one of our most improved players this year. He’s improved away from the puck and the ice time he’s getting, he deserved.”

When Andrew Alberts was concussed by a brutal Brian McGrattan hit on Dec. 30 in Calgary, the Flames enforcer was instantly forced to fight Sestito. That didn’t go unnoticed, because exposing and losing Aaron Volpatti to waivers, and claiming the improving Sestito in the same process, is helping to heal that franchise roster wound.

“It’s a little confidence, a little trust from the coaching staff,” said the 26-year-old Sestito, who’s earning $650,000 US this season and has another year left at $850,000 on his two-way contract. “I’m just making the easy plays, I guess. You’ve got to play to get ice time and play well and I’m just trying to run with it. When you’re not playing as much, it’s hard to get the legs into it, and when you get those four minutes, you’ve got to do something.”

In that respect, Sestito gets it. And it will get him more ice time from Tortorella.

“I don’t think he’s afraid to sit anybody,” summed up Sestito. “He’s brutally honest and that’s what you want from a player’s perspective. If you’re playing well, he’ll tell you. And if you’re playing like crap, he’ll tell you.”

Vancouver’s Tom Sestito duked it out with the Flames’ Brian McGrattan on Dec. 29 in Calgary.

Vancouver’s Tom Sestito duked it out with the Flames’ Brian McGrattan on Dec. 29 in Calgary.

Photograph by: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald

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