Mats Zuccarello is the heart of the Rangers

Zuccarello receives the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award (NYR)

Every year around this time of the hockey season, fans speculate who will get traded and what they can get. For many, NHL players are like buying and selling stocks with little emotional attachment. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s sad that we forget these players aren’t robots and this is a very stressful time for them.

One player on the Rangers that has fallen into this category is Mats Zuccarello.

While there is a large contingent of fans that are begging for the Rangers to keep him, there is any equally large portion that is focused on maximizing what he can bring back.

I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone just how special Zuccarello is. I wanted to remind everyone of his numerous Steven McDonald Extra Effort Awards and the countless smiles he’s brought to fans and teammates. Most of all, I wanted to remind you about the time Zuccarello almost died playing for the name on the front of the jersey.

In 2015, the pain of the Rangers losing in the Eastern Conference Final was terrible for fans and players alike. Although one Ranger was dealing with pain and fear on a completely different scale. TV2 in Norway provided excellent insight into the immediate days of terror Mats Zuccarello was dealing with after a slapshot fractured his skull.

“CLUNK!” That’s the sound Ryan McDonagh‘s shot made off the helmet of fellow teammate Zuccarello. The small winger with a huge heart was battling a Penguins defenseman in front and was just in the wrong place at the worst time.

Mats  Zuccarello injury (SN)
Mats Zuccarello injury (SN)

Zuccarello got back to the bench, likely on adrenaline alone. When he was about to sit, the damage fully hit him. He looked spaced and appeared to be having difficulty collecting himself. Jim Ramsey immediately took him to the locker room where Zuccarello skated to on his own power. Most assumed concussion, but no one could know just how bad it was.

“When I got to the locker room I could not talk, and I did not really know what happened. When I got to the (hospital) I realized that it was serious and I was afraid. But they were very good at the hospital to assure me that I was going to get well”, Zuccarello explained.Flag Lien, TV2

Once Mats went to the hospital, his mother Anita flew in to see her son. This was pretty serious. One of Zuccarello’s close friends, Glenn Jensen was informed his buddy was in bad shape. It wasn’t until they Skyped that Jensen felt that sick feeling in his stomach, the one you get when someone you care about is in trouble.

“At first I thought he (was) kidding, he pulled a joke. Then I realized the seriousness, and there was nothing in particular. It’s pretty nasty to see people you care about getting hurt. I saw him in pain, and it was not fun to watch. One that tends to be so full of life and love to talk, was not so happy anymore”, says Jensen. Vittersø Kvamme, TV2

Zuccarello at GM 5 (Photo: Josh Thompson)
Zuccarello at GM 5 (Photo: Josh Thompson)

Over the period of several days, Zuccarello had serious difficulty speaking and was having troubling feeling. The effects of the brain trauma were griping him with fear. The doctors continued to quell that fear by reassuring him that he would make a full recovery, but anyone would still be afraid while going through the experience.

After the season was over, Mats opened up about what happened to the press. “I got a fractured skull, and blood on the brain that made (me unable to) talk.” He continued to tell TV2 about his issues, “I also lost feeling in my arm and face. It was tough at first, and I was scared. I could not walk, or touch me on the first two or three weeks.”

As Zuccarello started recovering, he began to work with a speech therapist.  “I did not get out a few words (for) four to five days, but once the blood went out of the brain (my speech) came more and more back. It’s not one hundred percent yet, but it gets better and better”, Zuccarello told TV2.

During this time, his teammates not only had to deal with the pressures of the NHL Playoffs, but genuine concern for their friend. Chris Kreider summed it up on break up day, “It was real upsetting, but at the same time very inspirational and motivating to see him bounce back like he did.”

Today, Zuccarello has made a full recovery but that was a frightening experience for us all. After having watched Zuccarello all these years, you can see his heart is so big and his courage is even bigger. The clock on his tenure as a Ranger is ticking fast and we all want the best for Mats going forward.

When the trade comes it will be a sad day for the Rangers franchise. Even those that seem indifferent will have it hit them. The heart of the Rangers will be gone. A heart that almost stopped while standing in front of the net trying to win a playoff game for the Rangers. A heart that summoned the courage to overcome injury and fear to beat for the Blueshirts once more.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore