Scandella, Dumba make family day a memorable experience

Marco Scandella of the Wild invited Connor Johnson to the Stadium Series. Courtesy Minnesota Wild

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- Here is the part that tears your heart out.

Two years ago, Ty Olson suffered a spinal cord injury after a drunk driver caused a car crash as he and his family were on their way home from a University of Minnesota hockey game. Ty is 9 years old.

Connor Johnson was diagnosed with a large malignant brain tumor during a checkup around Thanksgiving to determine the cause of persistent headaches. The tumor was cutting off the fluid to his brain, so he has had to undergo emergency surgery and six weeks of chemotherapy and is now preparing for an aggressive nine-month regimen of chemotherapy.

He is 13.

So here is the part that might put your heart back in its place.

On Friday afternoon, Ty, Connor and members of their families were treated like part of the Minnesota Wild family as the team prepares for Sunday's Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

During the Wild’s recent road trip, teammates Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella got to talking about how neither of them were going to have family that could make it into town in time for the team’s family skate on Friday on the outdoor rink at TCF Bank Stadium in advance of Sunday’s outdoor game.

The two had been part of team hospital visits to a local children’s hospital earlier in the season, and decided they would reach out to local hospital officials and invite a couple of special guests to spend the afternoon with them and their teammates.

"It had really touched us," Dumba said of the earlier hospital visits. "So we just wanted to give back again and reach out to kids who were preferably Wild fans and who would really enjoy the experience, just kind of treat them and have a great day."

"It was just fun to see the smiles on the kids’ faces," said Scandella, whose dad died earlier this season from cancer. "It was a great experience for me too, just to be part of that and just to see the family going through something so tough have a good day."

Both boys are big hockey fans.

Connor was supposed to see the Wild play the Vancouver Canucks around Thanksgiving when he was first diagnosed with the tumor and missed the game.

Ty was a hockey player, himself, before the accident.

"I think it’s a tough one because Ty, two years ago, was a kid that played hockey and didn’t have any struggles skating up and down the rink and shooting and doing any of those things, then all of a sudden it came to a halt," his mother, Cindy Olson, said.

"For him to make six laps around this ice is pretty amazing and makes my heart pretty warm for this."

Teams can talk about being a family and they can talk about reaching out to the communities in which they are located. And they are nice ideas, to be sure. But sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what those ideas mean, how they manifest themselves with real people who exist outside the pro hockey milieu.

Then, as you watch Dumba and Scandella give the boys fist bumps and deliver hugs to their family members in the University of Minnesota football team’s locker room Friday afternoon, it's not so hard to see those things at all.