Hartnett: Expect Warm Welcome As Mats Zuccarello Returns To Garden Monday

Longtime Rangers Fan Favorite Now Plays For Wild

Sean Hartnett
November 25, 2019 - 2:10 pm

Monday night will undoubtedly be an emotional evening at Madison Square Garden. Minnesota Wild wing Mats Zuccarello (yes, it feels a bit strange writing that) will make his return as a visiting player after spending nine seasons as one of the most beloved and celebrated Rangers in recent memory.

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It’s probably fair to say that aside from Henrik Lundqvist, there hasn’t been a more popular Ranger over the past 15 years than Zuccarello. The booming “Zuuuuccc” chants that echoed around the Garden whenever Zuccarello touched the puck were only bested in decibel level by the choruses of “Hen-rik, Hen-rik” following any one of No. 30’s spectacular saves.

Zuccarello wore his heart on his sleeve during every shift of his nine years as a Blueshirt. That fierce, unwavering and energetic commitment to the cause formed a unique connection with the crowd and teammates.

Back in late February, following Zuccarello’s trade to the Dallas Stars, a visibly choked-up Lundqvist held back tears when asked for his reaction to the departure of his friend by MSG’s John Giannone.

Mats Zuccarello
Ben Ludeman/USA TODAY Images

“It’s tough, he’s a good friend,” Lundqvist said before stating that he couldn’t continue the interview.

So, expect a few tears and loud cries of “Zuuuuccc” when the Wild and Rangers meet Monday. It might be the fondest welcome back received by a former Ranger from the Garden Faithful since Ed Giacomin returned in a Detroit Red Wings uniform on Nov. 2, 1975.

Two days after being waived by the Rangers, Giacomin took to the Garden ice in an unfamiliar No. 31 Red Wings jersey. What followed was unending chants of “Eddie, Eddie” from start to finish. Fans decorated the World’s Most Famous Arena with banners and signs in an outpouring of love for Giacomin. The adoration of their former goaltender was so strong that his saves were cheered and the Rangers were booed after scoring on Giacomin.

All four of the Rangers’ goals were booed. All six of the Red Wings’ goals were cheered. Though Giacomin’s return was probably a one-off kind of night, I would be surprised if Rangers fans don’t chant “Zuuuuccc” whenever he touches the puck Monday.

The arrival of a younger netminder in John Davidson partially paved the way for Giacomin’s exit. Zuccarello’s departure was also one of forward thinking and youth-driven rebuilding. Had Zuccarello been signed to an extension, it would have crowded a right side that boasts Jesper Fast, Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich — and it would have been difficult to sign Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba to lucrative, long-term contracts.

The salary cap era forces tough decisions. Zuccarello was enjoying his strongest season as a Ranger with 0.80 points per game before he was traded to Dallas. His 11-point start through 19 games in Minnesota is impressive given that the Wild have been battling the Los Angeles Kings to escape the Western Conference cellar.

In a perfect world, Zuccarello would have remained with the Rangers, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Even though he’ll return in a Wild uniform, there’s no doubt that Rangers fans will welcome him back with full hearts and full voice.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.