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Mats Zuccarello ready for first game since skull fracture

Mats Zuccarello of the Rangers skates during practice

Mats Zuccarello of the Rangers skates during practice on Thursday, May 28, 2015 at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y. Credit: Mike Stobe

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When he was lying in a New York hospital after being struck in the head with Ryan McDonagh's point shot last April 24, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello initially didn't worry about his career -- there were far more serious concerns.

"It's kind of like, I mean, how's my life going to be like this? I can't talk, I can't function," Zuccarello, 28, said Thursday before his first NHL game, Thursday night in Boston, since his skull was fractured. "After that, it was like, am I going to play again?"

Doctors told him he was going to recover, he said, "but it's hard not to have those thoughts when you're in the hospital, and you can barely move and you have those things [wires] in your head, and you can't talk, so sure, it crossed my mind. It is an exciting day for me to come back."

The Norwegian winger, who will play with former linemates Derick Brassard and Rick Nash against the Bruins, said he didn't exactly know how he was going to feel on the ice, but believed that he wouldn't be thinking about the incident after a few games.

"I'll see when we get out there," said Zuccarello, a playmaker who is determined to play his game, which he also described as "being a little gritty and going into dirty areas ... as the season goes on and you get a couple games in you, you stop thinking about it."

Zuccarello, who scored 15 goals and had 49 points last season, said he will wear a new helmet with better "technology," although he said he preferred his old one, "But I think my mom wouldn't let me play with that."

When instincts take over, Zuccarello said, he'll know he's back to normal. "I feel good body-wise, but it's probably going to take some time, the same for everyone, for things like timing, receiving passes, knowing where all the guys are on the ice," he said. "That's what I tell myself, I just have to see when I get out there. I'm not as strong as I've been, but I'm still up there."

And he believes he will get stronger. "I didn't skate as much this summer; I started skating when I got here, but three weeks before I got over here, just off ice working with coach over there, I felt I was strong. The most important thing is getting your strength back."

Zuccarello will likely play in more pre-season games before the regular-season opener on Oct. 7 in Chicago, but initially, he is grateful for Thursday night, to be back wearing a Rangers jersey. "When you have teammates like this who support you, visit you in the hospital, I can't thank them enough how they treated me."

New York Sports