UPDATED: It’s been six years since Norwegian hockey star Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers has played on his own country’s national team in the Ice Hockey World Championships. Injuries and post-league play kept him away, but he’s back now, even though that didn’t help save Norway’s opening match over the weekend.
The Norwegians suffered a humiliating 3-0 loss to Scandinavian rival Denmark on Saturday. “It’s cool to play for Norway, but it is not cool to lose,” Zuccarello told newspaper Aftenposten after hitting the ice in Moscow for the first time. “This just wasn’t good enough.”
It also got the Norwegians off to a very bad start. “Given the situation now, we’ll have to score a lot, or else this is going to be a terribly long tournament,” head coach Roy Johansen said when the first match was over. It’s Johansen’s last major performance as head coach before retiring. Zuccarello, who made a spectacular recovery from injury last season, wanted to play for Johansen one last time, even though New York Rangers officials “wanted me to listen to my body and relax.” He did listen a little, but badly wanted to play for Norway, and was allowed to do so.
He would have been on the ice anyway, if the Rangers had advanced like they usually do in post-league action. Now he’s just on another continent, and even able to speak his own language with teammates.
It didn’t help much on Saturday, but on Sunday the Norwegian team rebounded with a 4-3 victory over Switzerland. Norwegian brothers Ken André and Mathis Olimb scored two goals, with Martin Røymark and Andreas Martinsen nailing the others.
That clearly cheered Zuccarello. “It was great to beat Switzerland, but there are more tough battles ahead, so it’s good to take it easy between them.”
He told Aftenposten on Monday that he’d had a good night’s sleep, was still enjoying the victory on Sunday but psyching up more: “It’s all about recovering well, drinking lots of liquids and eating well and being ready for the next fight,” he said before heading off for training with the rest of the team.
The Norwegians had a day off on Monday, but on Tuesday night they were due to face off against Kazakhstan, dubbed “Canakhstan” in some Norwegian papers Tuesday morning because of the team’s number of players who originally come from Canada. Then the Norwegians will be up against other powerhouse teams like the Czech Republic on Thursday, Sweden on Saturday, Russia on Monday and Latvia next Tuesday, Norway’s own national day on the 17th of May.