‘Zucca’ amazes hockey fans

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Norwegian hockey star Mats Zuccarello Aasen continued to amaze hockey fans, fellow players and rivals this week with more outstanding play and scoring for the New York Rangers. Considering that he could neither speak nor walk just seven months ago, much less skate, his performance is impressive indeed.

Norwegian ice hockey star Mats Zuccarello has made an amazing recovery and comeback on the ice for the New York Rangers. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norwegian ice hockey star Mats Zuccarello has made an amazing recovery and comeback on the ice for the New York Rangers. PHOTO: Wikipedia

“He’s been one of the leaders in the NHL (National Hockey League in the US)  after several matches, he’s been really good in several matches in a row,” Roy Johansen, coach for Norway’s national hockey team, told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. “If he keeps this up, he’ll be inventory for the All Star team.”

He was being hailed again this week after scoring nine goals and nine assists so far this season. He’s often the one “making a difference” in the matches, claimed the Rangers’ own coach, and he may be the first Norwegian to qualify for All-Star play since Espen “Shampoo” Knutsen managed it in 2002. “I’m absolutely sure he will,” Knutsen himself told NRK. “He’s an entertainer, and he’s incredibly good.”

He’s also made an amazing comeback after getting hit in the head by a puck last season. He made it off the ice himself but was taken to hospital and couldn’t speak for five days. He’d lost feeling in an arm and couldn’t walk. His cranial injury was so serious that the 28-year-old now known as “Zucca” couldn’t communicate and later needed help to regain his speech. He recovered, though. He had to sit out the rest of last season but hit the ice flying this season and hasn’t looked back.

Espen Hansen, a sports commentator for Oslo newspaper Aftenposten, recalled how the 171-cm-tall Zuccarello was initially thought to be too short to play in the NHL. “He’s broken all barriers,” Hansen wrote. “Everything’s going his way now.” Hansen noted that Zuccarello has  secured himself financially for the future, seems happy on the homefront with a Norwegian girlfriend, has settled a sponsorship conflict with the Norwegian ice hockey federation and will soon appear in ads for Norsk Tipping, the Norwegian lottery system that supports Norwegian sports.

Zuccarello, who grew up in Oslo, told local newspaper Dagbladet last summer that he thanked his mother Anita for his success. “I had to have someone who could take care of me, and she did.” He called his mother his “greatest supporter” while he spent recovery time both in Norway and New York, “training, relaxing on the sofa, sleeping, eating, training. That’s what my days were like.”

He told Dagbladet he’s “not the kind of guy who walks down red carpets and goes to celebrity parties.” But he thrives in New York and with the Rangers: “I’m living the dream.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund