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Rangers' Mats Zuccarello lost ability to speak after getting hit in head by puck

New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello cleans

New York Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello cleans out his locker and talks to the media on Monday, June 1, 2015, at the MSG Training Center after being eliminated from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lighting. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello lost the ability to speak for four days and suffered a skull fracture and bleeding in his brain after getting hit in the head by a puck in the first round of the playoffs.

The extent of the scary injury wasn't revealed until Monday as the Rangers bade farewell to the 2014-15 season in their breakup day at the team's training facility.

"I was in the hospital for three days," Zuccarello said. "I couldn't talk for a while, had a contusion, some blood in my brain. That affects a lot. Now I go to speech therapy. I'm getting much better. I couldn't say a word for four days. I feel much better."

It already was common knowledge how much the Rangers missed Zuccarello during their playoff run, which ended on Friday night, one win short of the Stanley Cup Final. That Zuccarello's symptoms went far beyond the usual sort of hockey injury went public after he spoke for the first time since being hit on the side of the head by teammate Ryan McDonagh's shot in the series-clinching Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 24.

Zuccarello, 27, said he also lost some feeling in his arm after the injury, but that has returned.

"It was scary," he said, "but the doctors were really good and made sure I knew that I was going to be healthy. After a while, I was just happy to recover quickly."

Zuccarello, who started skating again during the Eastern Conference finals, said doctors told him he will be ready for next season's training camp.

"I'm going to be getting better and better," he said. "It will still take longer to recover but come the season time next time, I should be ready to go."

McDonagh, who was on crutches and in a walking boot Monday because of the broken right foot on which he played the last three-plus games, visited Zuccarello in the hospital immediately after the April 24 incident.

"Nobody knew what was going on the night of," McDonagh said. "After the game, I went to our trainer and asked where he was and he said he was in the hospital and I went with our doc to see him. It was not a very good sight for sure. You don't want to see your teammate in a hospital bed, wires going every which way, making sure that he's OK.

"You wanted to try to communicate with him, but it was a challenge for him. It was tough to see a very close friend and a big part of our team go down that way, in that fashion. We sorely missed him for sure in the playoffs."

Even if the Rangers had advanced to the Cup Final, Zuccarello likely would not have been available, coach Alain Vigneault said.

"It was a huge blow to our team, there's no doubt," he said. "Mats is the type of player that plays five-on-five, can kill penalties, can play power play. Sometimes he's almost a guy that gets that little ball of energy going on the ice that starts some things that you need. So his minutes are very tough to replace.

"We never really thought that he would come back, but I think for our group, it was important for them to know that he might come back because he is such a likable young man that we always kept it out there that he's close and improving. And he was improving and he was getting better. But I think it would have been a real long, long shot for him to play."

With Neil Best

New York Sports