There isn’t typically ice to skate on in the summers in Norway.

Rinks are scarce compared to the United States and Canada, and what facilities are available are concentrated in the same areas rather than scattered throughout the country. Soccer is more popular. So is handball and cross-country skiing.

But hockey is the sport Mats Zuccarello, growing up in Oslo, wanted to play.

Advertisement

And his dream was to make it to Sweden.

“The NHL is so far away,” Zuccarello explained.

It wasn’t until after he accomplished his goal of starring in Sweden that the NHL became a reality for Zuccarello.

Teams were interested, especially the New York Rangers, and once he accepted the opportunity, Zuccarello set out on a journey to become crowned as the best in a league that at one point didn’t seem attainable — a chase for glory that now continues with the Wild.

“Your career is short. You can play for 15 years. That’s still a short career,” Zuccarello said. “In normal life, you work for 50, 60 years. So it’s a short amount of time.

“… Everyone every day works toward winning a Stanley Cup. But when you’re there, you gotta be willing to sacrifice because you don’t get those chances that often.”

Even though he had his sights set on Sweden growing up, Zuccarello was aware of the NHL.

He watched highlights Sunday nights on one of the two Swedish channels broadcast on TV, and when he was 13 — 10 years after he first started playing hockey — Zuccarello’s mom, Anita, bought him the VHS commemorating the 2001 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado became Zuccarello’s team, and Peter Forsberg his favorite player.

“I probably watched it 2,000 times,” Zuccarello said.

He ultimately chose hockey over soccer, relishing the emotional roller coaster a game offered.

“You can be as happy as you’ve ever been in one second, and you can be sad in the other second,” he said.

By the age of 15, the kids who were bigger than Zuccarello started to take over — this after he thrived when he was younger because the competition couldn’t catch him. Zuccarello’s high school years became formative, with maturity fueling his progress.

Finally, after a stint in Norway’s top league, Zuccarello made it to Sweden. He spent two seasons with Modo, and Forsberg became his teammate.

“I had a great time there,” Zuccarello said.

In Year 2, he scored 23 goals and racked up 64 points in 55 games. Glen Sather, the Rangers’ GM at the time, called.

“This is a step up,” Zuccarello said. “Obviously, I gotta go and see what happens. If not, I’ll come back. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

It took a couple of years for Zuccarello to settle into New York; he had to adapt to speaking conversational English, and he was sharing the ice with players he admired as a child — such as Chris Drury, who was on that Avalanche tape Zuccarello watched repeatedly.

“Coming from a small country and never being part of something that serious and big before,” he said, “it took me some time to adjust and really get comfortable.”

Eventually, Zuccarello did.

Before getting traded to Dallas ahead of last season’s trade deadline, the 5-8, 184-pound right winger logged more than 500 games with the Rangers — putting up 352 points (239 on assists).

Zuccarello emerged in the NHL as the player he was in Norway and Sweden: A setup artist.

“I always liked to pass more than shoot, see other people score, help other people score, see their joy,” Zuccarello said.

This pass-first style joined the Wild after the team signed Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract in July, and it was on display in practice before the 32-year-old made his Wild preseason debut Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center against the Stars.

“There were some times I’d almost be getting lazy assuming he’s going to shoot, and next thing I know it’s in my wheel house but I’m not ready,” said winger Zach Parise, who’s filled out a line with Zuccarello and center Ryan Donato in training camp. “I’ve kind of learned to always be ready with him.”

What the Wild is also getting with Zuccarello is someone who believes the expectation every year should be playing beyond the regular season.

After all, that’s a prerequisite to winning the Stanley Cup.

“You gotta make the playoffs,” Zuccarello said, “and give yourself a chance.”

rn{% endblock %}"},"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/limit-signup-optimizely/start"},{"id":"limit-signup","count":12,"action":"ignore","mute":true,"action_config":{"template":"{% extends "grid" %}rnrn{% block heading_text %}Youu2019ve read your 10 free articles for this 30 day period. Sign up now for local coverage you wonu2019t find anywhere else, special sections and your favorite columnists. StarTribune puts Minnesota and the world right at your fingertips. {% endblock %}rnrn{% block last %}rn{{ parent() }}rn{# limit Krux pixel from https://www.squishlist.com/strib/customshop/328/ #}rnrnrn{% endblock %}"},"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/limit-signup/start"},{"id":"meter-desktop-331","count":10,"action":"ignore","mute":false,"action_config":false,"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/meter-desktop-331/start"},{"id":"PDA991499opt","count":9,"action":"ignore","mute":true,"action_config":false,"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/PDA991499opt/start"},{"id":"limit","count":8,"action":"inject","mute":false,"action_config":{"template":"

rnrnrnrn

rn

rn

rn rn

rn t

rn SUBSCRIBErn Already a subscriber? Log in.rn

rn

All Star Tribune readers without a Digital Access subscription are given a limited number of complimentary articles every 30 days. Once the article limit is reached we ask readers to purchase a subscription including Digital Access to continue reading. Digital Access is included in all multi-day paper home delivery, Sunday + Digital, and Premium Digital Access subscriptions. After the 1 month Premium Digital Access introductory period you will be charged at a rate of $14.99 per month. You can see all subscription options or login to an existing subscription herern

rn rn

rn

rn

rn

rn

rn"},"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/limit/start"},{"id":"nag","count":7,"action":"lightbox","mute":true,"action_config":{"height":null,"width":"630px","redirect_on_close":null,"template":"{% extends "shell" %}rnrn{% block substyles %}rn

rn{% endblock %}rnrn{% block page %}rn{#rnrn{{ limit - count - 1 }}rnrn{{ form.flow_form_open({nextAction: 'firstSlide'}, null, null, '_top') }}rn {{ form.btn('Save Now') }}rn{{ form.flow_form_close() }}rnrn

rnrnrnu2022 rnrnrnrn#}rn

rn

rn

You have {{ limit - count - 1 }} articles left

rn

rn rn u00a0u00a0u2022u00a0u00a0rn rn

rn

rn

rn

rn Save More Todayrn

Over 70% off!

rn

rn

rn

rn

99u00a2 for first 4 weeks

rn {{ form.flow_form_open({nextAction: 'firstSlide'}, null, null, '_top') }}rn {{ form.button('Save Now', 'btn nag-btn') }}rn {{ form.flow_form_close() }}rn

rn

rn{% endblock %}rnrn{% block last %}rn{{ parent() }}rnrn{% endblock %}"},"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/nag/start"},{"id":"x","count":4,"action":"ignore","mute":true,"action_config":false,"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/x/start"},{"id":"multi-start","count":3,"action":"fly_in","mute":true,"action_config":{"location":"bottom_left","slide_direction":"bottom","group_id":null,"display_delay":"0","collapse_delay":"10","template":"

rn

rn

rn

rn u00d7rn

rn

rn

From just

rn

$3.79 99u00a2 a week

rn Save nowrn

rn

rn

"},"start":"https://users.startribune.com/placement/1/environment/3/multi-start/start"}]};

Source