Loved in New York, Wild winger Mats Zuccarello at home in Minnesota
After spending nearly a decade with the Rangers, the 34-year-old is now a key contributor with the Wild.
As much as Friday’s game between the Wild and Rangers at Madison Square Garden was all about Henrik Lundqvist — the legendary goaltender had his No. 30 jersey retired in a spectacular pregame ceremony — there were fleeting moments throughout the night when his best bud Mats Zuccarello stole the show.
After spending nearly a decade with the Rangers, the 34-year-old Zuccarello is now a key contributor with the Wild. He’s developed an unmatched chemistry with star winger Kirill Kaprizov and has parlayed that into a career-best 10-game point streak.
“I don’t know,” Zuccarello said when asked about his recent hot streak. “I’ve been lucky to have been part of the offense the last couple of games.”
That response from Zuccarello wasn’t surprising. He loves to downplay his personal success, even though he routinely makes passes that defy logic.
That offensive flair, coupled with an affable personality, made Zuccarello a fan favorite during his time with the Rangers. They loved him in New York, and if Friday’s game is any indication, they still do.
Literally anytime Zuccarello appeared on the big screen, the Madison Square Garden crowd chanted his name in unison. While there’s no doubt Lundqvist got the loudest cheers of the night, the ovation for Zuccarello when he hopped over the boards for the ceremonial puck drop was pretty impressive. The home crowd even cheered for Zuccarello when he scored a goal on goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
“I’ve got a special relationship with the fans,” Zuccarello said. “They were great to me when I was here and still are.”
The more time Zuccarello spends with the Wild, the easier it is to see why so many gravitated toward him during his time with the Rangers. He pairs impressive skills on the ice with incredible leadership skills off the ice.
“He doesn’t chirp for the sake of chirping,” coach Dean Evason said. “He says the right things and then to back it up with his work ethic. How many times do we see him tracking back and putting pressure on people from behind? It’s one thing to work the other way (offensively). It’s another thing to have the commitment to work back (defensively). And he’s done that all year. He’s been a leader of our hockey club in all areas.”
Make no mistake, though, Zuccarello is a jokester through and through. His teammates enjoy his sense of humor. He has an innate ability to bring joy to even the toughest circumstances.
That said, Zuccarello can also be serious when he needs to be. He has no problem calling out a teammate for not working hard enough, and while that’s not always an easy conversation, Zuccarello does it in a way that’s approachable.
“Everybody loves him in the locker room,” winger Kevin Fiala said. “The longer you get to know him, you can feel that he’s a really great person and pretty soft inside.”
The biggest reason it’s easy for Zuccarello to be himself is because he’s comfortable. As much as he loved his time in New York, he has found a new home in Minnesota.
“I’m in a great place right now (in) Minnesota,” Zuccarello said. “I love everything about it. Just how we play as a team and the fans there. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”