Zuccarello better than ever

Norwegian NHL star Mats Zuccarello recovers from a head injury to become the New York Rangers’ top scorer

Photo: Anna Enriquez / Flickr Mats Zuccarello playing for the Rangers in 2011.

Photo: Anna Enriquez / Flickr
Mats Zuccarello playing for the Rangers in 2011.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

It’s been quite a year for New York Rangers’ star right winger, Mats Zuccarello. The Norwegian agreed to a four-year, $18 million contract extension with the Rangers in March, but suffered a severe head injury at the end of the season. Now a new season is underway, and he is once again at the top of his game.

On April 24, Zuccarello was hit on the left side of his head by a slap shot from teammate Ryan McDonagh in Game 5 of the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The hit resulted in a brain contusion and skull fracture, causing Zucca the temporary loss of feeling in his arm and the inability to speak for several days.

“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 going to be healthy,” he said.

Sure enough, Zucca recovered with the help of speech therapy and was ready to return to the ice for the start of the 2015-2016 NHL season.

Now at 18 games into the season, the Norwegian has proven that he is not only recovered from his injury but better than ever. He’s made it on to the NHL’s top 10 lists for top scoring with nine goals, top points with 18, and top plus-minus statistic of nine. If he were to continue at this rate, Zucca would end up with 80 points for the season.

Following an extraordinary week, Zucca was named one of three NHL Players of the Week on Nov. 16, along with Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene and Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimerhave.

During this week, Zucca scored seven points—two goals and five assists—throughout four games. The highlights were his two three-point nights, first against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 12 and then facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 15. He certainly earned the MVP award against the Maple Leafs when he scored the game-winning goal with less than one minute remaining to secure the Rangers a nine-game winning streak—their longest streak in 43 years.

“Obviously when you get more confidence, you make those plays that are hard to make when you’re not that confident. It’s a nice feeling to be that confident. The whole team is like that. We have a good stretch here, so it’s a good feeling,” commented Zucca on their success after the game.

Understandably, he’s become quite popular among New York Rangers fans. His impressive week earned him the headline of “Mats Zuccarello Is An Absolute Magician” on the Rangers community site Blueshirt Banter.

“Mats Zuccarello is a magician, and along with being the Rangers best forward right now he’s just a fun player to watch in general,” writes Joe Fortunato in the article.

The Norwegian media is pleased—though not surprised—to see Zucca so popular in the U.S.

“That he has become one of the biggest favorites among Rangers fans is not so strange. One thing is that he delivers on the ice, now also with goals. But those with a heart that beats for the New York club love his loyalty to the club. Ever since his debut in 2010, he has shown in every possible way that the team is more important than both prestige and money. After playing a full season for Magnitogorsk in Russia, he came back and finished the 2012-13 season with good playoffs. When the negotiations on the new contract came close to collapsing in March, he went in himself and asked the agent to limit the requirements. He wanted to be with the Rangers, period,” writes Aftenposten.

Many expect Zucca to make it to the All Star game this year, including the former NHL player Espen “Shampo” Knutsen, who became the only Norwegian to ever play on the All Star team in 2002.

“That I certainly believe,” says Knutsen to NRK. “It is absolutely, insanely good what he does.”

While it may be early in the season, it seems that Zucca has quite the season ahead of him—to the delight of Americans and Norwegians alike!

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 27, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.