Wild winger Mats Zuccarello excited for Henrik Lundqvist’s jersey retirement in NYC
They became best friends during Zuccarello’s near decade long tenure with the New York Rangers
NEW YORK — As soon as the NHL released its 2021-22 schedule last summer, Minnesota Wild winger Mats Zuccarello circled Jan. 28 on his calendar. That marked his return to New York City for only the second time since the Rangers traded him away in 2019.
As excited as Zuccarello was to play against the team he played with for eight years, the homecoming became even more special a couple of months later when the Rangers announced that they planned to retire Henrik Lundqvist’s No. 30 jersey before the game against the Wild at Madison Square Garden.
Now that the date has finally arrived, Zuccarello is thrilled to be a part of it.
“It’s huge for him and his family,” Zuccarello said. “It’s going to be cool for me to experience that and be a part of that.”
From the moment Zuccarello joined the Rangers in 2010, he and Lundqvist became fast friends.
“He was a big player when I came in,” Zuccarello said. “He needed someone to shoot on him, and I was there, so that was the first time I met him.”
As they spent more time together on and off the ice, their friendship started to grow.
As close as they became over the better part of a decade, they were also polar opposites in almost every way imaginable. If Lundqvist showed up to an event rocking a designer suit, for example, Zuccarello joked that he would show up wearing sweatpants.
“He enjoys that in me, and I certainly enjoy that in him,” Zuccarello said with a laugh. “I think we complement each other in that way as teammates.”
All the while, Zuccarello looked up to Lundqvist for the way he approached the game. Though it might be an overused cliche in sports, Lundqvist hated to lose more than he loved to win. That’s something Zuccarello has taken with him throughout his career.
“It was the mindset that he had every day wanting to win,” Zuccarello said while teeing himself up for a joke. “Every practice he didn’t want to let in a goal. So I think it kind of sucked for him when I came to New York and was able to score on him whenever I wanted. He kind of got rattled for that.”
Those are the types of jokes that Lundqvist grew to love from Zuccarello over the years. They made each other laugh on a daily basis.
That laughter turned to tears when Zuccarello was traded on Feb. 24, 2019. Asked about his best bud in an interview shortly after Zuccarello was traded, Lundqvist broke down on camera.
“It is special for me to see that,” Zuccarello said of Lundqvist’s emotional interview. “It was really rough for me, too. You have in your mind you’re going to spend the rest of your life there. Then suddenly, in a matter of moments, I’m gone.”
Perhaps taking another friendly shot at his best bud, Zuccarello joked that he doesn’t think he will shed any tears during Lundqvist’s jersey retirement. He’s just happy he gets to be a part of it.
“I really think he deserves it and his family deserves it and stuff like that,” Zuccarello said. “As a hockey fan I’m going to enjoy being there for a ceremony like that and then worry about the game after.”
Yes, there will be a game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden, and it’s one the Wild want to win.
“We are there to play a game against one of the best teams in the league,” Zuccarello said “We obviously want to try to win that.”