After the Olympic Qualification, Mats Zuccharello will represent Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey. Photo: Bard Berntsen
Busy summer for Mats Zuccarello
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey will have lots of international flavour. Norway will be one of the nations with the presence of Mats Zuccarello.
Among the players headed to the World Cup this September is Norway’s sole representative, forward Mats Zuccarello. Coming off his best season with the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, the Oslo native will be expected to provide some offensive punch for Team Europe when it hits the ice at the Air Canada Centre.
“It’s an honour to be chosen to play for Team Europe and a privilege also to be on a team with so many great names,” said Zuccarello.
“We’re representing a continent rather than a country. It’s strange but in a good way. It’s going to be a great event and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
With Norway hosting one of the Final Olympic Qualification tournaments in early September, and the World Cup kicking off right before the NHL season, it has been a busy offseason for Zuccarello. After the Rangers were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the NHL playoffs, he joined the Norwegian national team in Moscow for the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. There he notched three points in seven games as Norway just missed out on a playoff berth.
After the World Championship, Zuccarello attended the NHL awards in June, where he was nominated for the Bill Masterton trophy, awarded to a player that best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.
The nomination came as a result of a remarkable comeback for the Norwegian. During the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Zuccarello was struck by a slapshot and sustained a fractured skull and brain contusion. The injury caused him to lose the ability to speak for four days and cast doubt on whether he would be able to play hockey at the same level. Nevertheless he underwent a lengthy rehab during the offseason and went on to play a career-high 81 games, leading the Rangers in points (61) and scoring 26 goals, both career-highs.
Still only 28-years-old, Zuccarello’s NHL numbers (203 points in 71 games) are by far the best of any Norwegian player in history, and have elevated him into a leading promoter for the sport in Norway.
“Ice hockey in Norway is seeing some great growth,” said Zuccarello’s manager Kevin Skabo. “You see a lot more televised games and a lot more hockey media covering the sport. Mats’ efforts both on and off the ice, and his career in New York and what he’s managed to do there, has definitely put ice hockey on the map here in Norway.”
Following the NHL awards Zuccarello travelled to Stavanger to host the annual Zuccarello All-Star-Game, a charity game that in the two years it has been held has raised approximately 280,000 U.S. dollars for Right to Play, an organization in which Zuccarello is involved as an Athlete Ambassador.
In the 2016 edition, Zuccarello’s team of All-Stars went up against a team assembled by Swedish hockey legend Peter Forsberg.
“The charity game was a big success, I’m thrilled that Peter Forsberg came to Stavanger to support this event,” he said. “Peter’s been a role model for me both on and off the ice, his engagement with charity work inspired me to get involved too and put this all-star game together.”
Among the players competing in the game were Swedish stars and World Cup of Hockey participants Henrik Lundqvist, Victor Hedman, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, all of whom Zuccarello will play against when Team Europe faces Sweden in a World Cup exhibition game on 14 September.
But before that, Zuccarello and his Norwegian national team will compete in the Final Olympic Qualification phase, hosting France, Kazakhstan, and Italy in a round-robin tournament in Oslo from 1-4 September.
“I’m really happy that Norway’s going to be hosting. I think this is a great opportunity to promote the sport in the country,” said Zuccarello. “I think we have a good chance but the teams coming in are also skilled and we need to play well. Our team is young and growing and we have a bright future, and hopefully we can take the next step by qualifying.”
With a ticket to PyeongChang 2018 and then a World Cup on the line, the kid from Oslo should be ready to go when the first puck drops in two months.