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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Mats Zuccarello

Forward on Team Europe's good start at World Cup, helping Norway qualify for Olympics

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Team Europe and New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello:

TORONTO -- Team Europe is 2-0-0 in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and close to clinching a berth in the semifinals. This team, featuring players from eight countries, quickly has become a darling team to watch in the tournament.

So after its 3-2 overtime win against Team Czech Republic on Monday, the question just had to be asked: Can Team Europe actually win this tournament?

"I mean, the U.S. won the 1980 Olympics, didn't they?" forward Mats Zuccarello said. "Miracles can happen."

Zuccarello and Team Europe are a long way from doing what Mike Eruzione and the 1980 U.S. Olympic team did in Lake Placid. The comparison may even be farfetched considering the '80 team featured a bunch of college kids against the experienced professionals from the Soviet Union, the unbeatable team at the time. Team Europe is a team of experienced NHL players trying to win against teams that also feature experienced NHL players.

However, to Zuccarello's point, no one would have thought Team Europe would be 2-0-0 at this point, with a dominant win against Team USA. No one would have thought Team Europe would be a Team USA loss against Team Canada on Tuesday from advancing to the semifinals.

Yet here it is, Team Europe, a team that was more like an experiment, unlike one ever seen in hockey, what with the various nations being represented, discovering it is good, that it can be successful in this tournament.

Zuccarello spoke about Team Europe's start in the World Cup and more following the game Monday. was there.

Here are Five Questions with…Mats Zuccarello:

What has this whole World Cup experience been like for you?

"It's been fun. We came in and half our team played Olympic qualification on a far different level than this tournament. It's still a pretty good level. Some qualified for the Olympics and some didn't. Some of them were really high, on top of their game, and some were kind of low and sad about not going to the Olympics. I think it took some time for us to get together, get to know the guys. A bunch of good guys in the locker room, having fun, enjoying ourselves right now. Everyone here knows it's our chance to represent our country. A lot of guys they come from small, small hockey countries, and we never would have had a chance to play in this tournament if it wasn't for this team. I think we're all enjoying that, cherishing that."

Norway won in the Olympic qualifications. What does that mean for you and your country?

"It's big. Except for being in the [Madison Square] Garden, going out on home ice in New York, it's one of the best experiences I've had. Playing in my hometown, my home rink where I grew up. It was a packed house the final game against France. We won 3-2, score with two minutes left. It was unbelievable. It's really big for Norway as a small hockey country to go to the Olympics on the big ice."

You're still a huge star in Norway. What is that like to be a huge star in your home country?

"Are you surprised? What are you saying, I'm not a star over here? Haha. No, I'm just joking around. I mean, I really enjoy going home. I really enjoy the support I get playing in New York. A lot of people come watch me. A lot of people are really excited. A lot of people have become hockey fans because of it. It's something I really appreciate. I'm trying to do my best to give back to Norway, but at the end of the day, you really cherish the support you get from the fans in New York and Norway. It's always fun to come back to Norway and just live a quiet life."

A lot of people would look at what Team Europe has done in this tournament and be surprised that you're 2-0-0. Are you surprised by that too?

"Obviously, no one would have thought this, maybe except for the guys in the locker room. We always believe. If you look at our team, I think they said on TV yesterday, there are eight Stanley Cup rings in that locker room. There's a lot of experienced guys and good hockey players there. Just because a lot of the guys come from small hockey countries doesn't mean they can't still do well. At the end of the day, we've been good, but the puck has bounced our way. I think we played a solid game against the U.S. and played another solid game again [Monday]. I think we have to really like where we're at right now."

No offense to the Rangers at all, but if you look around the room, is this the best or the most talented team you've been on in your career?

"I don't know. There are some really big stars on this team, but I think our team when we went to the Stanley Cup Final with New York was really good as well. I have fun whenever I play, and it's always fun to play with Marian Hossa and [Marian] Gaborik, people I looked up to when I was younger. You play against [Anze] Kopitar and you admire how good he is, and then you get to play with him and all these other guys. Like, [Pierre-Edouard] Bellemare is really underrated and really good for us. Jannik Hansen just works his [tail] off. Roman Josi may be one of the best Ds in the League. It's really been cool to be a part of this team. I'm just enjoying my time."

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