BROSSARD - Oh, what a difference a few hours can make.
On Thursday evening, Marco Scandella on the ice warming up with his Buffalo Sabres teammates just prior to their game against the Edmonton Oilers when he was pulled aside and told he'd been traded to the Canadiens.
The 29-year-old rearguard drove home, packed his things, returned to the rink to pick up his hockey equipment, and then set out on a late-night six-hour drive to Montreal.
"I got in pretty early this morning, but I was fired up; I didn't need to sleep," shared Scandella, a veteran of 549 NHL games with the Sabres and Minnesota Wild. "If I was [already] in town, I bet I wouldn't have slept anyways. The excitement was too high."
The source of his excitement, of course, stems from the fact that Scandella is a Montreal native who will get to live out his childhood dream of donning bleu-blanc-rouge, something he's expected to do for the first time on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I'm just happy to be home, happy to be a part of this team. It's my dream come true to play here. The emotions I've felt the last 24 hours have been incredible; I feel lucky enough to play for this organization and wear that jersey," beamed Scandella, who's scored 41 goals and added 92 assists for 133 points over 10 seasons in the League. "Not a lot of people get to do that. And being from Montreal, I feel like the pride that I have for this organization is huge. I'm living out my dream."
When Scandella finally pulled into Montreal, he didn't have to go searching for a hotel or find a couch to crash on. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound blue-liner bought a condo in the city five years ago and has been living and training in Montreal in the offseason.
"I'm just ecstatic; I'm happy. I'm trying to drink it all in. I feel like it hasn't really sunk in yet," described Scandella. "I woke up this morning and I was home and I was looking around, like, is this real?"
For Scandella, the Canadiens and his family go hand in hand. He called his mom first to break the news, but affinity for the Habs didn't start with his parents' generation.
"Actually, my grandmother is the biggest Canadiens fan," declared Scandella, who identified Saku Koivu as his own favorite player growing up. "When she emigrated from Italy, she used to always watch the games and so she was the happiest I was coming here."
Video: Marco Scandella on joining the Canadiens
A more direct connection, however, is that Scandella's uncle is Sergio Momesso, who was drafted by the Canadiens in 1983 and played parts of four seasons in Montreal to start off a 14-year career in the NHL.
Knowing that your uncle played for your favorite team growing up can certainly help you dream big.
"Just believing that it's possible. When you're a young kid and you see your uncle do it... that's pretty close in the family that it's possible," explained Scandella of Momesso, currently the Canadiens color commentator on TSN 690 radio. "Just having that belief growing up, talking to him... my brother [Giulio] played 15 years in Europe, and just having the passion for hockey is one thing, and then making it happen and believing you can do it. I'm just really fortunate."
On Friday, Scandella was paired up with rookie Cale Fleury. Expect to see that unit patrol the blue line against the Penguins on Saturday in what should be Scandella's Habs debut, and Montreal's new No. 28 liked what he saw from the young defender in Brossard.
"He's a good, young defenseman. I think we're going to work well together. We were just building that chemistry today, just seeing how he moves out there," he described of the 21-year-old. "He's a big kid, he plays hard, so it's going to be fun."
Scandella says he stopped once or twice to fill up for gas on the drive back to his hometown. But after practice, he admitted that his late-night arrival and lack of sleep had left him with little energy left in the tank, save for the excitement of finally getting to play for the Canadiens that's been fueling him through a grueling first day with the team.
"I'm running on fumes a little bit right now," he admitted. "I'll go take a nap when I get home."