NEW YORK — Mats Zuccarello is no longer upset about his breakup with the New York Rangers. But he’d be lying if he said it was easy to get over.
After spending nearly a decade in New York City, developing into an unquestioned fan favorite in that span, the Rangers traded Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars at last season’s trade deadline.
“It was tough to accept because you were passionate about your team and you felt like you gave everything,” Zuccarello said. “Then suddenly they don’t want you anymore or whatever. They go in a different direction.”
The biggest thing that bothered Zuccarello was that nothing was ever directly communicated to him. While he had a sense something might happen as the Rangers continued to shift toward a rebuild, Zuccarello never got a chance to chat with general manager Jeff Gorton before everything went down.
“I’m not stupid,” said Zuccarello, 32, who signed with the Rangers in 2010 as precocious 22-year-old out of Norway. “I had a sense of it way before it happens. It’s just the communication could have been better. It is what it is. It’s in the past.”
Nearly 10 months later, Zuccarello sounds like someone who’s actually moved on. He’s enjoying his new life with the Wild after inking a five-year, $30 million contract last offseason.
Frankly, for someone who loved the Big Apple so much, it’s only right that he landed on his feet in the Mini Apple.
“Obviously the fans, and the Rangers, and my teammates, and everything, I miss that,” Zuccarello said. “But the past is the past. Just glad to be here (with the Wild).”
Still, with the Wild preparing for a game against the Rangers on Monday night, Nov. 25, at Madison Square Garden, it’s hard to imagine Zuccarello won’t get a little emotional returning to his old stomping grounds.
Even if he tried to downplay everything leading up to it.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” said Zuccarello, who scored 113 goals and tallied 239 assists in 509 games with the Rangers. “It’s more other people talking about it. I’ve always had a great relationship with New York City and the fans. I came there young and kind of grew up there during my adult life. That’s where I lived almost all my 20s. It’s obviously a big part of me. But I don’t know if it’s going to be emotional.”
It’s going to be. That much is clear by simply watching the way longtime Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist got choked up last season while talking about Zuccarello being traded.
It’s plain to see how much Zuccarello meant to everyone in the Rangers locker room. And the adoration was mutual.
That said, Zuccarello is trying his best to treat the matchup against his former team like any other game. Maybe as a defense mechanism more than anything else so not to reopen old wounds.
“For me I’m there to play two games in two days,” Zuccarello said, noting how the Wild play the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils back-to-back. “Even though this was my home for a long time, I’m here to work. Obviously I’ll see everyone at the rink and say hi to them. Then I’ll relax and get ready for the game.”