I’ve always been a heart and soul kind of guy. Growing up watching hockey and the Rangers, my favorite players were always the guys who weren’t all that skilled but would bring it every single game. I loved players like Jed Ortmeyer or Scott Mellanby just because you knew exactly what they were going to bring. You knew that no matter the score, they would never take a shift off and they would always be bangin’. That is, until January 5, 2011.
I’ll always remember this. There was quite the buzz before the game about this smaller Norwegian player that seemed to have a ton of skill. The guy looked like he was 12 and I remember thinking how in the world is this guy going to compete against NHLers. He had been in the league for about a week and the buzz hadn’t subsided. His first NHL goal was against the Hurricanes, fitting now that I hate that franchise and I was a Zuccarello fan ever since.
I think the reason why I latched on to a player like Mats was because of his size and his passion for the game. I’m not the biggest guy, coming in at 5’8 and knew how difficult it must be to play against guys almost twice your size. What does that mean? Your compete level needs to be through the roof and you have to be fearless. I mean, check out this picture.
Zdeno fucking Chara. Do you think Zucc cares? Not a chance. Victor Hedman? He’ll go ya.
You can’t come up with a player on the Rangers over the last couple of years that competed like Zuccarello would, that would mix it up like Zuccarello would, or would stand up for teammates like Zuccarello would. Just because he’s incredibly skilled didn’t mean he wouldn’t mix it up regularly and because of this he would become a fan favorite. “Those aren’t boos, those are Zuuc’s for Zuccarello!” became something you’d hear all the time when the boys were on a road trip and Mats would win the Steven McDonald Extra Effort award, one of my favorite things to watch yearly, on three different occasions.
Now the big difference between myself and Zucc is that he clearly had a ton of skill. While I blocked shots, Zucc went out there and put on a show. Every time he has the puck you know its going to be a good play, even if he passes a little bit too much. He is one of the most crafty players in the league and just an absolute wizard when it comes to distributing. I can’t tell you how many times Zucc would go between sticks, between skates, and distribute the types of passes that you didn’t think were possible. Oh, and shootouts? The guy is money.
To this day, I am convinced the Rangers would’ve won the cup in 14-15 when McDonagh hit him up high with a shot from the point. I was supposed to be at that game but turned down tickets because I couldn’t think about seeing a playoff game without my old man. Zuccarello fractured his skull, couldn’t talk and I thought my favorite player of all time would never play again. What did he do? He got better and proved us wrong, again.
While Lundqvist has been the Rangers best player for years, Zuccarello has been the heart beat. MSG and the Rangers do an awful job showing off their players to the fans, while other teams like the Bruins have their own show highlighting different players on the team. What do the Rangers do? They release a minute long Mic’d up where not a lot of stuff happens and cringe worthy emotion is brought to our attention. I bring this up because I think every single Rangers fan knows what Mats is about because his personality on and off the ice shows, its not hidden.
He plays every single game like its his last and you never, not for one second, have to second guess his effort.
Last year I got to meet him after a game and even though this might sound dramatic, it was one of the best moments of my entire life.
Not many people get to actually meet their hero and it is a moment I’ll never forget.
He even signed the jersey. I’ll never forget the smirk he had on his face seeing how jacked up I was. He knew how much that moment mattered to me and embraced it.
Zuccarello has been a valuable player for the Rangers since the moment he came into the league and has been a big part of my life as a hockey fan. As silly as this sounds, I try to emulate his game in beer league and every once in a while I get the “You play like Zuccarello”, which to me is the biggest compliment you could ever give. Fuck, I grew out my hair one time so I could have flow coming out the back just to look like the guy. I looked like an idiot but I didn’t care. If Zucc does it, it must be cool. Everything about his game I appreciate and honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t know what the future holds. If he gets traded, if he’ll come back in the summer, etc but I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for bringing it every single night you played the game, thank you for making the Rangers a fun team to watch and thank you for being you. If you end up getting dealt you bet your ass every single Rangers fan will be cheering for your new team come playoff time. Just do us a favor: get out there and win that cup.