Zuc powers NY Ranger resurgence
Norwegian Mats Zuccarello is a leading scorer for the New York hockey team
Jo Christian Weldingh
After their 4-2 loss against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 8, the New York Rangers were ready to strike back when they hosted their neighbors from across the Hudson River, the New Jersey Devils, the following night in Madison Square Garden.
Jimmy Vesey opened the scoring for the Rangers with the only goal in the first period. Jesper Fast increased the lead halfway through the second period. Shortly before that, Norwegian native Mats Zuccarello, a right wing, saved a goal on the other end of the ice as the Devils came within inches of tying the score. Brian Gibbons’s shot got through goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but Zuccarello was able to swipe the puck out of the crease before it rolled across the goal line. Damon Severson opened the scoring for the Devils four minutes later.
The score was 2-1, Rangers, in the second period when Zuccarello scored his first goal of the night. He stole the puck from the Devils’ Severson and was suddenly one-on-one against goalie Keith Kinkaid. Zuccarello made no mistakes.Zuccarello, or “Zuc,” as he is known in Madison Square Garden, made the score 4-1 with a goal in the third period after a nice passing combination with J.T. Miller.
“Every game right now is a big game,” Zuccarello said after the match. “It’s a tight race. The race has started, even though we’re in December. It’s a tough division and you need every point you can get.”
Zuc kept the Rangers streak going with an assist in a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles on Dec. 15, and the next night scored the winning goal on a power play in overtime in a 3-2 win over Boston. Since 2015-16, 45 of Zuccarello’s 49 goals have been when the Rangers have led by one goal, trailed by one goal, or were tied.
Through Dec. 16, Zuccarello, with eight goals, 19 assists, and 27 points, was in a nine-way tie for 43rd in points in the National Hockey League. He led the Rangers in points and was tied in assists and had a +/- of +4. The Rangers have won 14 of their last 20 games, after starting their season in terrible form, losing nine out of their first 13 games. They are now tied for fourth in the competitive Metropolitan Division with the New York Islanders, in a wild-card playoff spot and four points behind first-place Washington.
Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist underlined the importance of not resting on one’s laurels. “We can’t let ourselves relax; we have to push on. The way the league is this year, it will be incredibly tight. We have to look forward, but it has been a good couple of weeks,” he said.
Most Norwegian hockey fans would have loved to see Zuccarello, who’s an alternate captain for the Rangers, put on the Norwegian jersey during the 2018 Olympics, but the NHL has stated that they will not take a season break during the Olympics, which means most of the national teams will lack their top players. Zuccarello, who’s probably the best Norwegian offensive player, would have made a huge difference on a squad that, if they’re lucky, and play up to their full potential, might have a chance of advancing from the group stage.
Mats André Zuccarello Aasen, 30, is the eighth Norwegian to play in the NHL and the most successful.
He was the first Norwegian to play in a Stanley Cup Finals in 2013-14. That was a breakout season for Zuccarello, who led New York with 59 points on 19 goals and 40 assists in 77 games. He added five goals, eight assists, and 13 points in 25 playoff games. His best season was 2015-16 when he had 61 points from 25 goals and 36 assists. He also had 59 points last year with 15 goals and 44 assists. He has a career +/- of 62. Zuc has the most career goals, assists, points, and games played by a Norwegian player in NHL history.
Before joining the NHL, he played for Modo Hockey in the Swedish Elite League. In 2010, he won the Guldhjälmen (Golden Helmet), awarded annually to the most valuable player in the Swedish Hockey League, with a league-high 64 points. He played for Norway in the 2010 Winter Olympics, picking up a goal, two assists, and three points in four games.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.