The Broadway Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey of Mats Zuccarello
“Those aren’t boo’s, those are Zucc’s, Zuuc’s!”
Sam Rosen’s usual exclamation of that sound emanating from the Garden has become a familiar theme to occur at The World’s Most Famous Arena over the last few years. The Blueshirt faithful come together to gleefully cheer on Mats Zuccarello with resounding “Zucc’s!” as he contributes to the score sheet. Every contending team boasts heart and soul players, and Mats Zuccarello has been the definition of heart and soul for the New York Rangers over the last few years.
Zuccarello has been an important part of the Rangers organization for years. Plucked out of the SEL as one of the top players in all of Europe, the Rangers took a gamble on the young, Norwegian forward due to the sleek speed and skill he possessed. Rangers brass got a hard look at him during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which ultimately led to the Rangers signing him later that summer. This move has payed off for the Rangers, ten fold.
His hard working attitude and skillful approach to the game makes it easier for the Blueshirt faithful to cheer on the 5’7” forward. There is a certain spunk to his game that is endearing to hockey fans. He isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice, puts his all on the ice and even stands up for his mates, even if the player is larger than him in size.
But what really makes Zuccarello stand out is his skill. The man can flat out play. A consistent 50 plus point player, he’s been a cog in the Rangers machine. Over the years, Zuccarello has shown an incredible mind for the game, matched with a passing ability and silky smooth puck skills that allows him to make his teammates better.
All of these things above is what Zuccarello brings to the table. A massively skilled, pesky forward with an incredible hockey sense that makes his team better. With that being said, one of the other defining qualities for Zuccarello is his tenacity and will to want to play and be the best. His journey to the NHL and the Rangers has not been an easy one, which makes his successes over the last few years all the better.
During the John Tortorella days, which feel like the Stone Age, Zuccarello was up and down from Hartford, to the big club and back. There was no place for him on the roster during this period. It seemed that after some time, with the trend that was occurring, Zuccarello seemingly was becoming the odd man out. All of this seemed to be confirmed when he signed a deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL for two years on June 1st, 2012
Finally, as the lockout shortened season of 2012-2013 went on, Zuccarello returned to the Rangers in March of that year and he never looked back. During his 15 games that season, Zuccarello helped boost the Rangers into the playoffs by putting up 3 goals and 5 assists, with a plus-minus rating of 10.
The following season began a new chapter for Zucc. A new coach in Alain Vigneault meant a more up tempo, up beat, offensive style of hockey was ushering it’s way to the Rangers, and it’s exactly the potion Zuccarello needed to solidify his spot in the Rangers lineup. In 77 regular season games during 2013-14, Zuccarello broke out and tallied 59 points with 19 goals and 40 assists. He was paired on a line with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, which easily became one of the better Rangers pairings since the days of Michael Nylander-Jaromir Jagr-Martin Straka. Add a magical playoff run and Stanley Cup Final appearance and Zuccarello went from affiliate hopper to Rangers mainstay in just about one year.
Another hurdle Zuccarello encountered was a far more dangerous one. This one had life or death implications. Game 5 of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs versus Pittsburgh is the setting. Zuccarello was jostling with a Penguins player in front of Henrik Lundqvist when a Ryan McDonagh slap shot hit Zuccarello on the left side of his head as he went down. With 3:58 remaining in the first period of that game, he left and didn’t return.
Zuccarello was admitted to the hospital and was revealed to have sustained a brain contusion. The injury was serious enough where he lost the ability to speak at some point. His future in hockey was questioned.
Zuccarello said he suffered a brain contusion, had bleeding on the brain and had a hairline fracture of his skull. He did not suffer a concussion. He spent three days in a hospital and only began talking after four days with the help of speech therapy, which he is still undergoing. Zuccarello also said he had initially lost some feeling in his arm.
“Of course, yeah,” Zuccarello said at the Rangers’ breakup day when asked if he was scared. “In the beginning I couldn’t talk. I lost everything. It was scary, but the doctors have been really good and made sure I knew I was gonna be healthy.” New York Daily News
Regardless of his injury, being the tough man he is, he was able to recover from this serious injury and returned to the Rangers lineup. As he led the team in scoring, Zuccarello made an impact on his return from his brain injury by playing in 78 games and scoring 15 goals and 49 assists. His hard work and perseverance did not go unnoticed as he was awarded the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award (an award he’s won three times previously), as well as a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy that summer.
Recently awarded the “A” that now sits on his left shoulder, Mats Zuccarello personifies what it means to not only be a New York Ranger but personifies what a heart and soul hockey player means to a team. The successes over the last few years have his markings all over it. An on ice warrior and an off ice ambassador, pushing through a serious head injury, uncertainty and his size, Mats Zuccarello has had an unexpected journey to the big club and every Rangers fan appreciates the effort and heart he puts out for the club every game. To that we raise a glass and salute Mr.Zuccarello! Dilly Dilly!