While it may be the offseason, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello hasn't had much time to relax as of late
While it may be the offseason, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello hasn't had much time to relax as of late.
Earlier this month, Zuccarello helped his home country of Norway qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics by knocking off France, 2-1, in front of his hometown fans in Oslo at Jordal Amfi, his home rink.
"Playing in my hometown, my home rink for Norway - it was a really proud moment," Zuccarello said in a recent phone interview. "Winning that last game against France and qualifying for the Olympics was a really big thing for me."
There's little time to regroup, as Zuccarello headed straight for Montreal and Quebec City to join Team Europe for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for a quick training camp before exhibition games against Team North America and Team Sweden.
"It's been challenging right now trying to get together, play the same way," Zuccarello said of his early experience with Team Europe. "It's only a week ago that we played for our Olympic qualifications.
"It's been fun," Zuccarello added. "A lot of good guys. Good practices. It's fun to play hockey games."
Zuccarello said he didn't change his training schedule this year despite the increase in hockey he'd be playing in late August and early September, something he hasn't experienced since coming to North America. In a normal season, he'd only be skating informally with his Rangers teammates in early September before training camp and the preseason.
Team Europe - and Team North America - are in different positions than the other six countries in the tournament in that there's very little - if any - experience among the roster playing together. Teams like the United States, Canada and Sweden have groups of players who have played together at various international competitions, namely the Olympics.
With that said, Zuccarello said the experience and talent of his Team Europe teammates - which includes Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, Chicago's Marian Hossa and Boston's Zdeno Chara - has sped up the process in terms of chemistry and familiarity.
"We're a pretty experienced group," Zuccarello said. "A lot of the guys have played many years in the League. It's nothing crazy. A lot of guys are going to new teams. You get drafted, traded. It's going pretty quick."
The opportunity to play with some of the NHL's best has been a fun experience for the 29-year-old.
"You play with people who were kind of your idols growing up," Zuccarello said. "Hossa, [Marian] Gaborik. I was fortunate to play with Gaborik in New York a little bit. Kopitar, even though we're the same age, when I was in Sweden I always knew about him. Obviously he's one of the best players in the League. Chara, it's nice to not play against him. He's a really good player. There's so many good players on this team, so you're kind of proud that you're a part with all these good players. You're really soaking in every moment and try and learn from the guys that are here."
Team Europe kicks off its tournament Saturday afternoon against Team USA. Zuccarello said once the puck is dropped, you can count on Team Europe turning in an honest effort.
"Everything we can control is that we're going to give 100 percent every game," Zuccarello said. "It's not going to be easy. They're going to be super tough teams, but it's a tournament. Anything can happen. We're hoping for a good result. Playing our way, a hardworking team. Every time you go on the ice you want to win."