Zucker was ready to roll
Las Vegas native learned from Bobby Ryan on the roller hockey circuit
Minnesota Wild’s Jason Zucker celebrates his overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, May 5, 2013, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Wild won 3-2.
Photograph by: ANDY KING, AP
ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Jason Zucker has taken the long road to the National Hockey League.
The wheely long road.
“For me, being from Las Vegas, I thought roller hockey was the biggest thing in the world,” said Zucker, the 21-year-old Minnesota Wild winger who suddenly finds himself playing on the club’s most productive line, alongside Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle. “I wanted to be a pro roller hockey player.”
For all of us who live in cold Canadian climates, born with ice hockey on the brain and the nearest arena less than 10 minutes away, it’s hard to believe.
The way Zucker describes it, however, ice hockey was the novelty. At least until Wayne Gretzky arrived in California, and Zucker became more intrigued about the other form of the game. His parents made the sacrifice, putting in round-trip treks to California on weekends for tournaments.
“When I was young, I didn’t know much about (ice) hockey at all. It wasn’t huge for me,” said Zucker, who got serious about the game after his 10th birthday.
Along the way, he developed a friendship with the Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Ryan, who spent his early teen years in southern California. Ryan and Zucker’s older brother, Evan, played together on competitive roller hockey teams in California. Jason sought out Ryan’s advice on career paths as a junior-aged player, eventually opting to play for the United States development program and at the University of Denver.
“In Vegas, it’s even further and far between to find rinks, and truthfully, if it wasn’t for (Evan) and his family — they drove so much to Southern California — then he probably wouldn’t have gotten into ice (hockey) at all,” said Ryan.
“We were all in that impressionable age when we all skated outdoors on roller blades and that’s kind of what we wanted to do in Southern California at the time.”
While Ryan was a fan of Roller Hockey International’s Anaheim Bullfrogs, who played out of the Anaheim Pond, that wasn’t the prime focus.
“The really cool thing was the pro beach hockey, where the guys were on the beach with the ramp in the back and a ball. We knew they didn’t make (much) money and it wasn’t a career for anyone, but it was something we all wanted to do at 12 or 13 (years old). Those were the guys we looked up to. We thought those guys were living the life.”
While Ryan switched daily from roller blades to hockey skates — he was introduced to ice hockey in his early years in New Jersey — countless others only played on the beach.
“There were a ton of really, really good roller hockey players, he said. “I always thought if you gave them a stick and a puck and put them on ice skates, they would be great.”
Zucker, who has three goals in 13 games this season with the Wild, was one of them.
After spending the past nine days on the road, the Senators were scheduled to leave St. Paul immediately after Tuesday’s game, arriving home early Wednesday morning and back to sleeping in their own beds. “It gets repetitive, it gets old quickly,” Ryan said of lengthy road trips. “It’s nice to get home and have some home cooking, especially when the (hotel) breakfasts are $50 a pop. Get me away from this ‘Farmer’s Egg’ Special.”
TIME TICKING FOR PAGEAU?
The Senators decided against taking Chris Neil off the injured list Tuesday, but he is expected to play Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens at Canadian Tire Centre. Once he returns, the Senators will be forced into a roster move. Centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who was a healthy scratch here Tuesday, is the most likely candidate to be assigned to AHL Binghamton.
HARDING WORKS OUT
Josh Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals against average, was on the ice with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since complications with his multiple sclerosis forced him to the sidelines. Harding’s last game was Dec. 31.
“If I felt a little bit like I could play, I would have, but there are some things that were way out of my control, and I thought we did everything within our control to get back to where we are now,” he said, without going into details about the necessary adjustments in his MS treatment. “Now, it’s just a matter of getting the reps in and getting back to finding a rhythm and getting into control.”
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