Beating the odds: Jason Zucker

By Peter Knutson
Let’s Play Hockey

The odds of making it into the pros today are well over one in a million. No gambling man from Las Vegas would ever take those odds, except Jason Zucker. He was raised in Las Vegas, where he was one of the few kids playing hockey there. Zucker played for the local youth team where Rob Pallin, a native of Chisholm, Minn., coached him.

Pallin has a long history of hockey. He played for his hometown high school before leaving to go and play in the North American Hockey League. He was one of the first people to forgo their years in high school in order to play juniors.

From there, Pallin went on to play at Minnesota Duluth for two years with Brett Hull and finished up his last two years at Western Michigan. He continued on and played in Europe for eight years before settling down in Las Vegas. Pallin started running the Fiesta Ice Arena where he met Zucker.

“I knew when I first started coaching him as an 11-year-old that there was something special about that kid,” Pallin said. “He was always very competitive and striving to get to the next level.”

Over the next nine years, Zucker and Pallin worked with each other, developing skills and practicing drills. When asked about their training sessions, Pallin said, “Every summer, Jason and I would work for countless hours on his individual skills. Jason would shoot hundreds of pucks, skate for miles, and stickhandle through endless stacks of cones, just so he could get a little better each time. On and off the ice, no one worked harder than Jason Zucker.”

Zucker’s hard work has paid off. In 2009 and 2010, Jason played for the United States Under-18 team, which won gold medals at the world championships. He was also part of the U.S. team that took home gold in the World Junior Hockey Championships, hosted in Canada in 2010. He capped his international play off with a bronze medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships.

He then went on to play at the University of Denver where his talents were quickly noticed. He scored 23 goals and added 22 assists as a freshman, which was more than enough to win the WCHA Rookie of the Year award, as well as being named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team and Second Team All-WCHA.

Zucker played another year at Denver before signing an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild. He was drafted 59th overall by the Wild in 2010.

“I was very surprised he wasn’t drafted higher, but I couldn’t think of a better organization to play for,” Pallin said. “To see a kid that I coached grow into a great player and play for my hometown team is something special.”

Phil Falcone, the current minority owner of the Minnesota Wild, is also a native of Chisholm, and a good friend of Pallin’s. On March 29, 2012, Zucker made his NHL debut for the Wild against the Florida Panthers and in his next game, he recorded two assists and was voted the No. 1 star of the game.

Zucker beat the odds and made it from Sin City to the pros.

“I think the most impressive thing about Jason is his character,” Pallin said. “He holds himself to the highest standards and has never once succumbed to the pressure surrounding him. That kid has never had a drop of alcohol or been anywhere near drugs in his entire life, even while living in a city where that stuff is prevalent in everyday life. Jason is a special kid.”

The future looks bright for this young star who hopes to put life into a team coming off a down season. Minnesota, keep two eyes on this kid, you won’t want to miss a second of him.