For the first time since being struck in the head by a Ryan McDonagh slap shot back on April 24th, Mats Zuccarello will be in a Rangers uniform playing in a game this evening, and though it is only a pre-season contest against the Bruins up in Boston, Zuccarello is still thrilled to be back out there with his teammates.
"I am happy to be here today, and it's an exciting day for me to come back," Zuccarello told reporters following the team's morning skate.
The popular Norwegian forward suffered a fractured skull and was unable to speak for four days after being hit in the head during the fifth and deciding playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even though the Blueshirts played another 14 post-season games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, he was unable to return to game action.
That changes this evening when Zuccarello skates on the right wing with his long-time linemates Derick Brassard and Rick Nash.
"Right away my thought was How's my life going to be like this?, I can't talk, I can't function; and after that it was Am I going to play again?," explained Zuccarello of the immediate aftermath with his injury.
Zuccarello credits the support of his doctors and teammates for helping get through that scary time; and now after recovering and building himself back up this summer in Norway, he "feels good" and is ready to make his pre-season debut tonight.
But will he experience any fear being back on the ice in a fast-moving game situation?
"I haven't played a game yet, but when I practice, no, and when I think about the game, no, but I'll just have to see when I get out there," answered Zuccarello when asked that question. "That's part of my game, being gritty and going into dirty areas. That's how I have to play; and hopefully I'm going to do that, and that's my mindset to do that."
Zuccarello didn't skate this summer until arriving back in New York in August, but his conditioning test results were better than last year. He said Thursday that he feels strong and is approaching the pre-season like any other in that he just needs to work out the kinks in his game and get his timing on the ice down.
But it's not lost on Zuccarello that tonight will be special for him.
"All my teammates here have helped me out so much and have been so positive,so when you have teammates like this that support you and visit you in the hospital I can't thank them enough for how they treated me," said Zuccarello. "So I'm so excited to get back and play with those guys again."