It was 4 a.m. on September 4, 2011, and Todd Scarola and his father, William, had just shaved their heads in preparation for surgery to remove a benign tumor the size of a golf ball from the 20-year-old’s brain.
Scarola, who just finished his senior year as a Stony Brook ice hockey goaltender, noticed something was wrong a year earlier while playing hockey for Suffolk PAL. “I was in training camp in August of 2011, and I felt a shooting pain go right through my shoulder, and it was to the point where I couldn’t hold a five-pound goalie stick,” Scarola said. “I said, ‘Hey Dad, we’ve got to get this checked out.’”
An MRI revealed a tear in Scarola’s rotator cuff, which he didn’t believe was a serious injury at the time. Further MRIs were taken, and eventually, an MRI of his brain revealed a tumor.
“They said I had to be admitted into a hospital immediately, or I would die,” Scarola said.
He went to get a second opinion from neurosurgeon Dr. Philip Gutin at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Gutin confirmed the presence of a brain tumor.
The news hit him especially hard because Scarola had lost his mother in 2000 after a seven year battle with cancer.
“I always have that in the back of my mind,” Scarola said.
Gutin told Scarola that he had plenty of time—but the sooner he had surgery, the better.
“The thing that freaked me out as a 20-year-old kid was hearing that if it was left untreated and the tumor reached my spinal cord, that I was going to die right on the spot,” Scarola said.
The surgery went well, and the majority of Scarola’s tumor was removed. Throughout the whole ordeal, his father was right by his side.
“I knew if I could get Todd through this, there was nothing that could stop him,” William Scarola said. “Todd has had to deal with so much pain that other people may have given up from a long time ago. He is a true hero of mine on so many levels.”
Just a few years later, his son would be tested again.
In April of 2015, doctors discovered another brain tumor in the right frontal lobe of his brain. He would need to have another surgery, which kept him out until the end of August.
The goaltender walked down his block in Kings Park at 7:00 a.m. every day in order to get the motor skills he needed to play hockey back.
The now 24-year-old Scarola came back on Sept. 25 just in time to play in his senior year and helped his club win its fourth consecutive Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League Tournament and earn the No. 2 national ranking in the American Collegiate Hockey Association this season.
This was Scarola’s first season that he got a lot of playing time, as he was behind Brendan Jones and Derek Willms on the goaltending depth chart during his previous two years at Stony Brook. “I was really surprised that he was able to play,” Chris Garofalo, the head coach of the hockey team, said. “When he got his second brain surgery, he came through it fine and he’s played the best hockey he’s played with us.”
Garofalo was very impressed with Scarola’s attitude and mature approach, especially when he didn’t have much playing time behind Jones and Willms the two previous years.
“He’s been a pleasure to coach,” Garofalo said. “Where others may have complained, he’s supported the other two guys. He had the opportunity to play this year, and he rose to the top.”
On the ice, Scarola provided a sense of comfort to his teammates when he was in the net, especially to the team’s captain, JT Hall.
“Todd’s the type of teammate that always stayed positive,” Hall said. “Knowing that he had our back if we made a mistake out on the ice was a great feeling. Hearing he was coming back this past year was a big confidence boost for the team.”
His teammates’ confidence in Scarola is a result of his ability to handle the puck and be sharp on both sides of the net. “Todd’s impeccable as a goalie because he has a good stick and a good glove hand,” William Scarola said.
Another factor of Scarola’s hockey success is that he doesn’t think about the tumors during games. He constantly thinks about it almost everywhere else, however.
“I can’t control it, but it dwells in the back of my mind of what could potentially happen,” he said.
For someone that didn’t even know if he’d be able to play this past season, Scarola excelled at his position. During the regular season, Scarola had a 12-0-1 record with a .922 save percentage, a 2.20 goals against average and three shutouts.
Scarola said it was an exciting feeling and a great experience to be able to help his team win the ESCHL playoffs this year. “We had a blast,” he said.