In New York, Zuccarello played with many stars, but the Russian rookie in Minnesota, Kirill Kaprizov (23), can compete with most of the Norwegian’s playmates over the years.
Kaprizov is a young and good player. We have clicked quite well. He’s quite playful, a bit like I’m both on and off the ice. We get along well. It also helps for our chemistry on the ice, Zuccarello told TV 2 about the 23-year-old who came to the National Hockey League as Olympic champion for Russia in 2018.
In Russia he took the domestic league by storm as a teenager and in the USA he got a huge start with three points already in his debut against the Los Angeles Kings.
No one in NHL history has ever spiced up a debut with three points including victory overtime. Since then, the puck artist has not looked back. The interaction with Mats Zuccarello has made Minnesota fans sit on the edge of the couch every time they play.
– Is he in the top 5 of players you have played with?
– Ranking players is always difficult. I have played with many fantastic players with completely different qualities. He has only played 30 games in the NHL, while others I have played with have over 1000 games in the NHL. But he is among the players I have had the best chemistry with, says the Norwegian.
Kaprizov has already scored 27 goals in the NHL, the best of all newcomers in the league. With his eleven goals and 16 assists, he has been the main reason why the Minnesota Wild has surprised a lot this year, especially at home, the club has been very strong.
In comparison, Mats has a very acceptable 21 points in 22 games this year.
– So you no longer miss New York?
– My New York time was fantastic. I really appreciate the time I had there and all the people I met, and I am grateful for all the experiences and memories with the club, the players and the fans. But that’s history now. That’s two years ago. Now it’s the Minnesota Wild that counts, and that’s where all my focus lies.
Lonely in the corona bubble
In the relatively short time in Minnesota, he has made many good friends and people he enjoys. In the classic Mats way, he says that he gets along well with everyone. But there is no particularly extensive social life in an everyday life full of corona restrictions.
– As in other countries with strict measures, the corona everyday life here is also quite monotonous. Here it goes in the face and we are tested every day. Now we play matches about every other day as well, so for my part it only goes in hockey. If I am not with the team in training, playing matches or traveling in connection with away matches, I only sit at home alone and relax between the matches and the trip.
– Is there a social life outside of hockey in corona times?
– In the …
Never doubted himself
Minnesota fans have seen a different version of Zuccarello this season than last year. The team is better, the Norwegian is sharper and the goal points more.
Zuccarello never doubted his own capacity, nor that the transition from a vibrant New York to more anonymous Minnesota was the right one:
– I never doubted myself. Last season I scored 15 goals and was perhaps not exactly where I should be in terms of points. But I played well. And why should I doubt myself? There is no point in sitting down and whining and giving up, he concludes.
– As athletes, you know that a lot goes up and down during a career, and personally I choose to grow on the adversity I face and use it as motivation to constantly fight back. The body still feels nice after 600 games.
Therefore, he also has no problems with motivation after over a decade in the world’s toughest hockey league. The audience favorite still loves to play ice hockey. Even in front of empty stands, he is willing to please the fans.
– The motivation is always there, even without the audience. Of course, it’s hard to play without fans, but at least we get to play matches and compete. The most important thing is that we get to play hockey. We know that our fans sit at home and watch all our matches on TV. Sooner or later they are back in the stands as well. It will be good for both them and us, says Zuccarello.
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