It is not a surprise that ice hockey is very popular in Nordic countries. A lot of children at a very young age already think about becoming a top-star NHL player – who would not wish for such a thing, but for Norwegians, hockey is a part of their culture. It is always more fascinating when their fellow citizen is playing for the best hockey league in the world.
This article will mainly focus on a Minnesota Wild winger Mats Zuccarello, how his career began and how he ended up in the NHL.
Mats Zuccarello – from Eliteserien to the National Hockey League
Zuccarello was born in 1987 in the suburbs of Oslo. As his surname probably indicates you, Zuccarello is of Italian descent from the mother’s side. He started playing hockey at the age of five and the first team he joined was Frisk Tigers, where he spent four years.
In 2008 he signed with Modo Hockey in the Eliteserien (Sweden’s premier league), and in the first season, he collected 40 points in 35 games. In the second season, Zuccarello led the team with 23 goals. Zuccarello received Guldhjälmen, an MVP award in Sweden, based on the votes of Eliteserien players.
In 2010 Zuccarello made a breakthrough and the New York Rangers signed him as a free agent on a two-year contract. He had some decent results considering it was the first year, amassing 23 points in 42 games.
While the Rangers were not conceived as the main contenders of winning NHL according to Norwegian odds sites, also referred to as odds sider in their native language, Zuccarello was an integral figure for the team and led them in playoffs, reaching Stanley Cup final as well. It should be considered a tremendous achievement, due to the fact, even playoffs seemed unreachable for the Rangers.
The real improvement for Zuccarello started in 2013 when he began making a lot of assists. In 2014 his contributions helped the team reach the Stanley Cup final, where they opposed Los Angeles Kings. Though New York lost 4-1, he became the first Norwegian ever to feature in the Stanley Cup final.
In the following seasons, he became a more all-around player, working hard and constantly pressuring his opponents. Due to his hard work, he was awarded the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.
On 24 February 2019, Dallas Stars signed Zuccarello, and he made a debut on the same day versus Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury, which caused him to miss approximately four weeks.
His tenure in Dallas was not an impressive one and on 1 July 2019, he moved to Minnesota Wild, where Norwegian signed a five-year, $30 million contract. He has so far scored 14 goals and made 16 assists in 54 games.
The Norwegian is widely considered as one of the top players competing outside of Norway, which judging by his results is not surprising. He brought prominence to his home country and most people simply watch NHL games because of Zuccarello. Though he is already a veteran, 32-year-old still has 3-4 years left to play at the highest level, and he is an individual, continually seeking new challenges and improvements in his playing skills.