Marco Scandella rolls up the sleeve of his blue sweater and flashes the tattoo on his right wrist.
Dec. 2, it reads, with FS in script.
With an exaggerated Italian accent, Scandella smiles brightly and enunciates the name — “Fran-CHESK-oh,” the way his father used to pronounce it.
Scandella’s smiles were few and far between last season.
There’s a reason the Wild defenseman is one of the most popular fixtures inside the locker room. One of the longest tenured Wild players — he was drafted in 2008 and debuted in 2010 — he’s usually joking around, always dressing in the latest snazzy threads and making sure his oft-cut hair is perfect.
His motto in life and hockey: “Look good, feel good, play good.”
But last season, the pain was obvious.
“It was hard to watch,” said Jared Spurgeon, a longtime friend and teammate.
On Dec. 2, Scandella’s father, Francesco, died after a lengthy bout with cancer. Scandella says the man who used to park a truck for hours with high-beams on just so his son could play hockey at night is the father who shaped him into the 26-year-old he is today.
“Here’s the thing,” Scandella said. “My dad, no matter what my entire life, always believed in me. I lost that one person that was always like, ‘Of course you can do it.’ Every phone call: ‘What do you mean you can’t do that? Of course you can.’ He’s always been that motivation and that one person that no matter what thick and thin always said, ‘You’re good enough.’
“Now it’s like I’m suddenly going out on my own, and not having him to talk to is pretty tough. Unless you go through it, it’s hard to understand what it’s like not being able to see someone who’s that significant in your life ever again. So I just try to reassure myself that all the lessons I learned over time from him are still in me, and I know he’s still in my heart.”
Francesco Scandella was born and raised in Bergamo, Italy. With no money and in need of work, he moved to a northern Quebec mining town in search of precious metals. When none were found, he moved to Montreal to be an electrician with his brothers. That’s where he met his wife, Sandra, who was waitressing at her father’s restaurant.
“My dad had a tough life, but he was all about his children and my mom,” Scandella said.
That’s especially what made last season tough. Not only did Scandella have to endure being far away from home while his dad was getting sicker, he had to play the rest of the season with heartache knowing that his mom was alone in Montreal. Scandella and his three siblings live elsewhere.
Scandella calls his mom “everybody’s rock,” but suddenly “my brothers and my sister had to be there for her, and we’re dealing with the loss at the same time.”
After the season, even though Scandella has his own home in Montreal, he lived with his mom for a month to make sure she was OK.
“I’m not going to lie, I took advantage of it a little bit,” he said, laughing. “We’re Italian, so she’s a great cook, so I had nice meals all the time.”
The Scandellas are from a “very Italian community” called NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce).
“Everybody knew who my dad was and he knew everybody,” Scandella said. “I’ll admit, one thing that made this summer tough was I’d run into people I barely knew or never met before and they wanted to talk about dad. Everybody wanted to ask the question, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’
“Yes, I’m OK,’” Scandella said, loudly. “But at the same time, it also brings me happiness that so many people knew him and respected him and loved him.”
Support in the room
Scandella admits it was hard to play last season. That’s why he couldn’t be more appreciative that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and former coach Mike Yeo let him leave training camp last fall to visit his dad.
“I’ll cherish those moments because the second time when I went to see him [for a week last November], he was not really there anymore,” Scandella said. “So, I feel I got to say my goodbye. I’ll cherish those moments.”
When Francesco died, Marco decided not to leave the team.
“My dad was very hardheaded,” Scandella said. “When he had an idea, everybody had to respect it. That’s how he was. He was old school. In September, he said he did not want the funeral to be during the season.
“That’s why those days Chuck and Mike gave me in September was the best thing ever. We respected his wishes.”
So, Scandella leaned on his teammates. Sadly, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter experienced the same thing with their dads a season earlier.
“On a professional level, I respect them so much, and just talking to them about the hockey perspective, how they went through it and how to deal with it really helped,” Scandella said. “My teammates, guys like Mikko [Koivu], Spurg, [Matt] Dumba, were super supportive.”
Scandella didn’t eat at home for three weeks. He constantly went over teammates’ homes or went to dinner with them, and his mom visited for three weeks around Christmas.
“It was like two months of not being alone too often,” Scandella said. “Once you talk about your emotions, it just helps. I don’t know why it helps just to talk about it, but it helps your energy and how you feel as a person. My teammates really helped get me out of a funk.”
Ready to go
Scandella couldn’t be more excited for this season. You can tell he’s getting back to normal, talking excitedly about the brand-new Shelby Mustang GT350 he bought.
“Manual, over 500 horsepower,” Scandella said. “Yeah, I’m still a car guy.”
“It’s like a fresh start for him,” Spurgeon said.
Besides the emotional pain last season, Scandella played the entire second half with a serious abdominal injury. He decided to rehab it naturally this summer rather than have sports hernia surgery, which he underwent in 2012.
“It was pretty tough second half of the year,” Scandella said. “Injections only go so far. No excuse. I feel like I was still very able to play my game. In the playoffs, I didn’t feel like I played my game to the fullest, and that’s disappointing because every time we get knocked out of the playoffs is one less chance of winning the Stanley Cup. And, we have a special group here.”
He’s very excited about the new coaching staff, and coach Bruce Boudreau loves Scandella’s mobility, physical play and shot.
“We think he can step right up and be such an important and good player that he can take some minutes from [Suter] to even it out a little bit more,” Boudreau said.
The pain of losing “Fran-CHESK-oh” is still there, Scandella says, but it’s getting easier with time.
On his sticks every game, he draws a cross and writes the word, “Papi.”
“I love hockey, and I know that my dad wanted me to play last season. He wouldn’t want me to sit out and feel sorry for myself,” Scandella said. “That was his thing. It’s a dream. I’m living my dream and I feel like that was actually the best medicine. When I was on the ice, I didn’t think about it too much.
“When I’m out there, I’m playing hockey, the crowd’s roaring, and it’s just a special place.”