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Mats Zuccarello displaying leadership on, off the ice

Mats Zuccarello of the Rangers controls the puck

Mats Zuccarello of the Rangers controls the puck during a game against the Red Wings at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Leaders come in all sizes and shapes and decibel levels. This is something Rick Nash has seen play out over and over again in his 14-plus years in the league and international play.

“I’ve had Adam Foote as a captain. He comes in and screams at guys and throws things around,” Nash recalled after the Rangers optional skate on Saturday. “I’ve had Steve Yzerman as a captain who leads by example. [Rangers captain] Ryan McDonagh also leads by example. There’s a bunch of different leadership ways.”

Nash would describe Mats Zuccarello, who was named an alternate captain for Rangers at the start of the season, as one of the more “vocal” types who also gets it done on the ice.

That leadership was on full display Friday night when Zuccarello scored 37 seconds into overtime to give the Rangers a 2-1 win over the Red Wings at Madison Square Garden. The goal clinched an emotional victory for the Rangers, given that goalie Henrik Lundqvist had made a Herculean 40 saves in the game.

At 5-8, Zuccarello may be the shortest person on the team but he plays with a giant-sized passion. After the game, Zuccarello had no problem calling out the poor play of the team in the first period, joking that they had all eaten too much turkey the day before.

After Saturday’s skate, Zuccarello said he tries to use humor to get his point across.

“Obviously, you try to be a leader on the ice and play hard and do what needs to be done to win hockey games,” he said. “It’s not necessary to always score goals but do other stuff.

“I try to do that. On and off the ice, I’m the same and try to keep it loose and have fun with the guys. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. You learn every day.”

Zuccarello was named an alternate captain in October, taking the place of Derek Stepan who was traded to Arizona. Zucarello, who had led the Rangers in points in three of the last four years, was already someone who players listened to in the locker room. He also seemed to be a perfect complement to McDonagh, who is more of a “lead by example” type.

Zuccarello said having an honorific title hasn’t changed him much.

Said Zuccarello: “It’s just an A you know. I’m still the same way in practice and in games. Obviously, it’s a really proud moment when I got that A. I take pride in that. I want to be a leader especially on the ice.”

Notes & quotes: Boo Nieves, who left Friday’s game against the Red Wings with a hip pointer, will not play Sunday afternoon when the Rangers host Vancouver. The rookie center was able to skate with the team on Saturday and said he is feeling better, but Vigneault prefers to take a cautious approach. “I haven’t talked to our medical staff yet, but obviously came in this morning feeling better than he was [Friday night],” Vigneault said. “He was able to skate. He’s not going to play [Sunday]. I’m not sure what the percentage is there, but at least it’s what we thought yesterday. It’s just a day-to-day thing.” Vigneault said that David Desharnais will replace Nieves on the line with Jimmy Vesey and Paul Carey.


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