To say Marco Scandella is comfortable in his own skin is an understatement.
Just look at the way the big, mobile Wild defenseman separates opponents from the puck in the defensive zone, the way he jumps up the ice to join the attack, the way he hammers bombs from the point on a nightly basis.
But take a look at the soon-to-be 25-year-old off the ice, too.
The proud Italian from a tightknit family who loves fast cars, house music and his Montreal lifestyle has a motto he lives by: “Look good, feel good, play good.”
Teammates joke that it starts with his hair, but it’s no joke.
“The main thing is a fresh haircut every two weeks,” Scandella said confidently as he fell into a leather love seat. “Gotta shave the sides down, you know? That’s the Montreal flow. I always have hair product. Sometimes I go old school with the gel, sometimes a little paste and then finish it off with gel for the shine.
“I always try to keep the hair looking good. Wake up, take a shower and style your hair.”
Scandella often talks about this “Montreal style.” He goes home every summer and still lives in his parents’ triplex in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce section of Montreal. His hardworking dad, Francesco, was born and raised in Bergamo, Italy. His mom, Sandra, a sister of former NHLer Sergio Momesso, is a second-generation Italian and can cook up the best homemade gnocchi with Arrabbiata sauce Scandella says you’ll ever taste.
“Whenever you see people out in Montreal, everyone is looking good,” he said. “It’s a big thing to have your own identity. It’s who has the new fresh haircut, nice shoes. It’s like a European-style city. A lot of bistros, small restaurants with four or five tables, very intimate city.
“Anything goes, almost. And you can have your own opinions and own ideas and nobody is all over you about it. It’s just a happy place. It’s high-paced.”
High-paced, like the types of cars he loves.
Full speed ahead
Scandella grew up a car guy. He often talks cars with teammate Jason Zucker, who loves the American muscle car.
“I drove a few Corvettes when I was in Houston,” Scandella said of his minor league stop. “But I’m definitely a European and Japanese car guy. I feel like they have a lot of soul. It’s not just all motor.”
Scandella’s first car was a 1985 Honda Prelude. When he played junior in Val-d’Or, he had many “mishaps,” often getting stuck in snowbanks and having to call his billet parents to tug him out.
“One time there was a really icy road and I tried to pull a quick maneuver and I went into the snow,” Scandella said. “It was deep where I couldn’t open my door. I had to climb out the window and shovel my car out.”
He owns a Honda S2000 with orange rims, and an 800-horsepower black Nissan GT-R.
“I don’t drive it that fast on the street, but it’s good to know it’s there,” Scandella said, laughing. “I like to personalize my cars. I don’t just keep it stock. I feel like cars have their own personality, the way they react with the road. I drive them with spirit.”
His dream car that best bud and teammate Jared Spurgeon predicts Scandella will soon buy thanks to a recently-signed five-year, $20 million extension? A Ferrari.
“Realistic Ferrari is a 458 Italia. The one I really want, but for me the money is not justified, it’s a Ferrari F40,” Scandella said. “They made them from 1987 to 1991. Right now, used with 20,000 miles, they’re over $1 million. But apparently it’s the most special car to have ever been built. People that have them, they don’t sell them.”
Scandella then went on a tangent about the history of Ferrari before interrupting himself: “Yeah, cars are my passion.”
So is his family.
His father, Francesco, 72, grew up on an Italian farm. He did high-level motocross until a childhood accident. In need of work, he moved to northern Quebec to work construction in a mining town. He eventually moved to Montreal to be an electrician with his brothers.
“He had a tough life, my dad. He’s fought for everything he’s had,” Scandella said. “Whenever things are going bad, I always think about how bad my dad had it. He’s good today, but you can see the way he holds himself, his posture, he’s always ready for anything. That’s just the mentality he’s always had. One day at a time and give it everything you have.”
Sandra’s parents emigrated from Italy because her dad was a professional soccer player. He eventually became a landscaper and then owned a restaurant. Sandra, who got her cooking skills from her mom, waitressed there, which is how Scandella’s parents met.
“My grandfather was an unbelievably tough soccer player. That’s where I get my athletic genes,” Scandella said. “And, my uncle [Momesso, who played 711 NHL games]. We’re real close.”
A hockey family
Scandella’s oldest brother, Giulio, 31, plays hockey for Val Pusteria in Italy. He has 22 goals and 60 points in 28 games this season. Eleven years ago, Giulio stopped playing Canadian juniors so he could play four years in Italy in order to represent Italy in the Olympic Games in Torino.
“Giulio is an unbelievable hockey player,” Marco said. “He just flies out there. I still wonder if he could’ve made it over here. He struggled with injuries. To be honest, I’m not going to say he settled, but he left junior at 19 and maybe that was the wrong decision. He ended up playing in the Olympics. It made my parents proud. But I think if he could go back, he’d try to make it here.”
Scandella’s other brother Alessandro, 29, is a truck driver in Ontario.
“He was a pretty good hockey player,” Marco said. “He was a skill guy who would just run people over. He just didn’t really want to play hockey. And that’s fine. He’s happy. He’s one of the funniest guys, too. He’s the best guy.”
And then, there’s sister, Maria, 26, a paralegal. Marco said, with a giant smile, “She played on the same team as me in a contact league when she was 14 and I was 13. And she was better than me. She was tougher than me, she was bigger than me at the time. She was a better skater. I was so embarrassed to have my sister on my team. She was a defenseman, too, but no one made fun of her because she was good enough and would hit the guys.”
Maria won a championship with Dawson College.
Scandella, a 2008 second-round draft pick, loves to have fun. He has been friends and defense partners with Spurgeon since their first rookie camp together in Traverse City, Mich., in 2010.
They’re always together at the rink and on the road. They’re seatmates on the Wild charter.
“It’s ridiculous the conversations that we have,” Scandella said. “We watch ‘Sons of Anarchy’ on the plane. Those plane rides when we land, we’re like, ‘Geez we’re already here?’ I make him to listen to my music. He didn’t grow up on this music, but … he’s feeling it, I think.”
Scandella continues to blossom as a player. He has nine goals and 17 points in 42 games, is plus-4, recently tied Brent Burns’ franchise-record for defensemen with eight shots in a victory over Chicago and last game against Colorado assisted on Charlie Coyle’s winning goal.
“It’s amazing the confidence he’s playing with,” said Momesso, now a Montreal Canadiens radio analyst. “When you first break into the league, you’re so worried about not making mistakes that you don’t make the plays you would make in juniors. Now, he’s just playing. He’s hitting his stride. He’s earned it. He’s worked so hard.”
Under the lights
Scandella grew up in a rough neighborhood where most his friends played basketball. Every night when he was 7 years old, Scandella would take five sticks and go to nearby Oxford Park to play hockey.
“I would go there at like 4 so I would get the fresh ice and just play by myself and have fun and pretend I was guys in the NHL and go dangle and practice my shot and bag-skate myself,” Scandella said. “My dad would sometimes watch me play for five hours. He didn’t think I would play in the NHL. He just wanted me to have fun.
“He’d put his gloves on and he’d freeze outside and watch me play. When the lights would go off at the park, he’d park his truck right at the entrance and put his high-beams on so I could keep playing. My dad is the best.”
Scandella brought up Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers’’, where it says, “To master something, it takes 10,000 hours.”
“I didn’t know that rule as a kid. I was just having fun, but now, I think about how many hours a day for how many years I spent at that park trying to better myself, I think that got me here,” Scandella said. “I just love hockey. I honestly go out there and I have fun with it.
“Practice is fun for me. There’s definitely a level of professionalism you need, but after practice, I love messing around and seeing how many times I can tap the puck in the air without letting it drop. These are all things that are built into me since I was a kid.
“I honestly just love what I get to do.”