Time was winding down. The game was tied 3-3 and the Wild was pressuring the Chicago Blackhawks.
As the clock ticked down, Jared Spurgeon dished a cross-ice pass to his defensive partner. Marco Scandella wound, took a little mustard off the shot, and sent a laser on net, beating Corey Crawford glove-side with 1:48 to go in the game. He unleashed a roar that put the State of Hockey at ease as the Wild went on to top the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, 4-3 on Dec. 5.
It was his first goal of the season and seventh point. Two games later, he tallied two assists for his first-career multi-point game. The growing offensive contributions only enhanced the strong defensive effort the blueliner has put forth this season.
“He’s a great story for us right now: a young kid that’s playing well,” Head Coach Mike Yeo said Nov. 18. “He’s not playing like a young kid. He’s playing a very mature, very confident game.”
In the weeks following Yeo’s comments, Scandella’s game has continued to shine. In his fourth year in the pros, Scandella has found his niche on the Wild, working alongside Jared Spurgeon night in and night out. Last season it was a much different story as he saw action in six games with the Wild after skating in 63 in 2011-12.
Ask and he’ll readily tell you, he’s simply feeling confident.
“I’m just having a lot of fun out there and I’m putting less stress on myself, which is helping my mental game,” Scandella said. “It’s a process. I’ve been working on this since Junior; you have a bad game or a bad shift and you want to bounce back. I’m just trying to look at things as, if you make a bad play, it’s always about the next one. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s not that bad. In the end it’s a game.”
According to the 6-foot-3 defenseman, part of that mentality and that confidence is aided by re-signing with the team on a one-way contract over the summer and the assurance that the organization has shown in him. A portion of it can also be credited to the fact that he has felt part of the team more this season than compared to other years.
“This year, I’m just comfortable but not taking things for granted,” Scandella said. “Being an in-betweener, I guess, it’s a little weird, but I don’t feel like a vet but it’s my fourth year pro. I’m going to be 24 in February. I’m not a kid anymore. I know what it takes to be here and I’m super happy, proud and honored to be in the NHL.”
Much like his perspective on the ice, Scandella’s approach to his chance to play the game he loves is humbling, noting that not everyone gets such an opportunity.
His overall mentality is something he literally wears on his sleeve. Inked on his left forearm, just along the bone, reads “Dream as if you’ll never die. Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.” It’s a constant reminder of how he approaches the game and life, as well as the sacrifices he’s faced along the way. And not only the sacrifices he’s made, but also the ones made by his family. From daily rides to the rink and the chances they afforded him, in his own words, Scandella is a product of his parents and family, through and through.
“I had a really good supporting cast growing up,” Scandella said. “And I always kept hockey fun. You never know when it’s going to be taken away. You never when you’ll have an injury. Life is unpredictable. And I’m not just talking about hockey. That’s just kind of the way I live my life. Sometimes you have sour moments and things don’t go so well, but it’s not that bad.”
Much of his overall perspective is based on his father’s life. The 23-year-old grew up in Montreal in an Italian-speaking household. When his father, Francesco, was 22 and completed his mandatory Army service when he immigrated to Canada from Italy, initially to a small mining town in northern Labrador and found work as an electrician.
“He wanted a better life,” Scandella said. “He’s a great example of working hard to get somewhere. He came from very little and he worked his way. He’s a retired electrician, but I just have to give him props. He worked hard.
“Talking to someone who’s been through what he’s been through; life’s not that bad; just enjoy it.”
Undoubtedly, Marco is living proof his father’s hard work paid off: a young NHL defenseman who grew up in one of the most cultured cities in North America. Fluent in Italian — he noted that his dad solely speaks to him in his native tongue unless someone else in the room doesn’t know the language — and extremely proficient in English and French, Scandella is proud of the fact he’s trilingual, something he considers to be a pretty rare attribute particularly in the United States.
With everything Scandella’s been blessed with, the 23-year-old has shown a lot of maturity this season and knows not to take anything for granted.
“Not everyone gets this chance. To have fun and enjoy it while being on a team like up here is just unbelievable,” he said. “You can’t really explain that, you have to be a part of it…because (playing in the NHL) is special.”