THE LORD OF THE RINK
THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
I guess every “hobbit” has his journey. For Mats Zuccarello that adventure started when he was just 5 years old playing in the suburbs of Oslo. He is of Sicilian and Norwegian decent. Maybe that hot Italian blood is what makes him so tenacious in the face of NHL giants? He stands in at 5’7″ and 175 pounds. Those numbers are well below the current league average, but don’t tell Mats that because he doesn’t care.
Zucc as he is affectionately known, was no “small” player in Europe. He was actually an elite one! He won the “Norwegian Player of the Year Award” twice and was named the Swedish Elite League’s MVP just before signing with the NY Rangers.
He made his debut 3 years ago today (12/23/10) versus Tampa. Mats became just the 7th Norwegian player in the NHL (the 2nd undrafted). Zucc made an impression by scoring in the shootout and even though the Rangers would eventually lose, his debut was a “small” success. Coach Tortorella didn’t want him sitting around the Christmas break so he sent him to the AHL. Zucc was recalled on 12/27 verse the Isles where he recorded his first NHL point on an assist in a win. Zuccarello’s first goal game in his 6th game against Cam Ward of the Hurricanes in OT. Than he began to struggle.
As expected, he had a hard time adjusting to the smaller ice rink and faster pace in North America. It led to his reassignment back to the AHL. Of course outside forces like the NHL lockout causing Mats to sign a two year deal with the KHL. Still, his desire was always to play in the NHL and to be in NY. In March of 2013 he came back to the Rangers and it looks now to be a great move by Glen Sather.
Now at 26, it looks like Zuccarello isn’t just earning his roster spot but challenging the “top dogs” for more ice time. Mats has easily been the Rangers most consistent offensive force for the last 11 games, averaging a point per game. He has been the team’s spark plug and a big reason the Rangers haven’t totally caved in on themselves.
Last night’s victory over the Minnesota Wild, was a perfect example of what he has been doing for the NY Rangers since his benching in October. Zucc was clocked by Matt Cooke and immediately bounced back up. He would not stay down. That heart was evident when he fought 2 Wild players for the puck and started the play for Pouliot’s game tying PP tally. His 2nd period goal was a reflection of his small stature on the ice. How else could he have snuck in the middle of 4 Wild players to snipe one in all alone in front.
“The Little Ranger That Could” has already surpassed his career high in points. Mats smile is infectious and his teammates love him. It’s time for the rest of this Rangers team to join the hobbit on this journey. They must emulate his heart and courage and together they may just lead the Rangers out of this darkness.