Todd Scarola was born to be a hockey goalie. His father was a goalie, and so were his older brother and sister.
“My dad threw me in skates when I was still in diapers, when I was 2 years old,’’ Scarola told Newsday in a telephone interview Monday. “I didn’t really have a choice . . . It’s just been a huge passion of mine, and I loved it my entire life.’’
Scarola, 27, came oh so close to fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL on Sunday when he was called upon to dress as the emergency backup goalie for Carolina in Game 2 of the Hurricanes’ second-round playoff series against the Islanders at Barclays Center.
Carolina’s starting goaltender, Petr Mrazek, left the Hurricanes’ 2-1 victory early in the second period with a lower-body injury, pressing backup goalie Curtis McElhinney into action and prompting the Hurricanes to call on Scarola, a Kings Park native and Stony Brook graduate, to dress as a backup to McElhinney.
“Even though I didn’t get to go in the game, I wasn’t nervous whatsoever,’’ Scarola said. “I actually wanted to go in the game. I was excited to go in.’’
(With NHL teams restricted to two goaltenders on their game-night roster, each arena usually has an emergency goaltender on hand for games in case one team loses both its goalies to injury. The emergency goaltender usually is a local amateur who is not under contract and would play for either team should the need arise.)
The most impressive part of Scarola’s story, though, has nothing to do with hockey. It has to do with brain surgery.
Scarola, whose mother died from a rare form of cancer when he was 9 years old, has had not one but two brain surgeries — one in September 2011, when he was 20 and playing junior hockey, and again in May 2015, when he was finishing up his junior year at Stony Brook. Both times, he had operations to have a benign growth removed from his brain.
He was back playing a month and a half after the first surgery. After his second, he missed training camp but ended up being the No. 1 goalie on one of the top club teams in the nation, one that went 30-3-2 and made it to the final four of the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament.
“I’m 100 percent,’’ Scarola said when asked how he can play hockey after two brain surgeries. “At the end of the day, I just look at it like it’s a blessing in disguise. I don’t take anything for granted.”
Scarola, who lives in Islip with his girlfriend, Courtney, graduated from Stony Brook in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He worked as a steamfitter after college but has taken a job with a company doing HVAC work.
He plays both ice and roller hockey in men’s leagues on Long Island and got hooked up with the emergency backup goalie gig with the Islanders when teammate Dan Casano passed his name along to the person who is in charge of finding emergency goalies for the Islanders.
“Originally, I thought it was a hoax; I thought someone’s playing a joke on me,’’ Scarola said, recalling his first contact with the Islanders.
Scarola said there are “about eight guys’’ who serve as emergency goaltenders for the Islanders, taking turns at each of the 41 regular-season home games at Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum. Before Sunday, he served “about 10 to 12’’ games during the season. He brings his goalie gear to the arena and leaves it with an equipment man down by the locker room before the game, then sits in a regular seat and watches the game like any fan.
Early in the second period Sunday, Scarola was chatting with the fan next to him when his girlfriend alerted him that something was up.
“Where’d the main goalie go?’’ she asked.
Scarola saw McElhinney in goal, then checked his phone and saw a text to come on down.
“And I’m like, ‘This is surreal right now,’ ’’ he said. “ ‘Is this actually happening?’ ’’