Norwegian hockey star Mats Zuccarello Aasen is “writing Norwegian sports history” this week, according to national ice hockey coach Roy Johansen, with his spectacular scoring for the New York Rangers in prestigious NHL Stanley Cup play. Johansen told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday that Zuccarello Aasen, who goes simply by “Zuccarello” in the US, is one of very few Norwegians to reach the NHL semi-finals and the only one to have played so actively.
“It’s an enormous presentation that he’s putting on right now,” Johansen told NRK. “I think it must be the greatest hockey playing by a Norwegian ever, but to do so well on a team like the New York Rangers is huge for Norwegian sport in general, not just ice hockey.”
Norwegians including Patrick Thoresen and Anders Myrvold have played in the Stanley Cup but didn’t see nearly the action or won the accolades that Zuccarello has. If the Rangers make it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, Zuccarello will likely become the first Norwegian to ever play in it.
Johansen noted that ice hockey is “a major sport internationally, the NHL is huge, and Mats has done well all year.” He would have gladly had Zuccarello playing this week on the Norwegian team at the ice hockey world championships in Minsk, Belarus, but they collided with the Stanley Cup action.
Johansen said he has “no problem” understanding the choice Zuccarello had to make. “We had a talk about it, and Mats just has to make the most of what’s happening with him right now,” Johansen told NRK. “He has to do what he can to get the Rangers as far as possible in the finals. We’re just happy on his behalf, and know that he’s following what’s going on here, too.”
Zuccarello’s Norwegian teammates at the world championships seem to be doing well without him, given their two victories in a row in opening action over the weekend. The Norwegians lost to Sweden on Tuesday night, but still had a chance of making the quarter-finals as they headed into Wednesday night’s match against Slovakia.
Zuccarello’s step-brother Robin Dahlstrøm is playing on the Norwegian team in Minsk but also closely following the action on the other side of the Atlantic. “I’m really happy for him,” Dahlstrøm told NRK. He thought the Rangers had a good chance of getting into the Stanley Cup finals after most recently beating the Pittsburgh Penguins at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden.