Masterton Nominee Darling Making Most of 2nd Chance
Scott Darling represented 12 teams in the space of four years before getting his big break with the Blackhawks this season.
But the 26-year old netminder’s story isn’t just a case of biding one’s time; it is a tale of perseverance, determination and overcoming personal demons to reach the very top of the game – earning him a nomination from the Chicago chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association for this years Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
A native of Lemont, Illinois, Darling grew up just 40 minutes from the Blackhawk’s United Center home; but it was Arizona who took a chance on the 6’6″ puck stopper, selecting him in the 6th round of the 2007 draft (153rd overall).
Darling spent a year with the USHL Indiana Ice before enrolling at the University of Maine, but was dismissed by then Black Bears Head Coach Tim Whitehead following numerous violations of the school’s code of conduct.
“In his freshman year, we saw a guy who liked to have a little too much fun off the ice, but I’ve seen that with a lot of kids,” Whitehead told The Hockey News earlier this season. “But it became clear in his sophomore year that it wasn’t just a typical kid going through growing pains. He was suffering from alcoholism.”
Darling attended the Coyotes training camp during the summer of 2010 before spending time with their ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas, but was cut as fitness and attitude problems raised concerns. He eventually joined the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern Professional Hockey League, spending one forgettable season with the club before being released the following spring.
Unemployed and seemingly out of options, Darling confronted his drinking problem and learnt to better manage the social anxiety concerns he’d dealt with since childhood.
Re-uniting with former Bruins goaltending coach Brian Daccord – who a year earlier had turned his long time pupil away from his Stop It Goaltending school in Boston due to behavioural concerns – Darling lost 40 lbs and began to resurrect his once promising career.
A solid effort with Mississippi in the SPHL led to cups of coffee with the Florida Everblades and Wichita Thunder, before a permanent ECHL deal came with the Wheeling Nailers in 2012.
Daccord later helped put Darling in touch with goalie guru Mitch Korn, leading to a two-way deal between the Predators ECHL and AHL affiliates. And when Pekka Rinne was sidelined due to hip surgery and a resulting infection last season, an opportunity with Milwaukee opened up; with Darling posting an impressive 2.00 GAA and .933 save percentage in 26 games with the AHL outfit.
His success with the Admirals paved the way for 1-year, two way deal with the Blackhawks organisation this season – with Darling’s first taste of NHL action coming in late October, after Corey Crawford was sidelined with an upper=body injury.
A 32-save effort secured a 2-1 win over Ottawa in his home debut, with a second start coming in Anaheim two nights later before facing the Senators again on October 30th in a 5-4 shoot out.
Darling’s record with the Hawks now stands at 8-3-1, with a .941 save percentage and 1.77 GAA, earning him a new mask and a 2-year contract extension in late February.
“People don’t want to change until they have to,” Darling told The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell in November. “I really dug myself a hole before I woke up. I just busted a 180 and put my foot on the gas.”
From rock bottom to the NHL in the space of four years; Darling’s journey is a great example of what a second chance can do for a player and a person, with the path he’s taken to the NHL leaving a lasting impression on American puck stopper:
“It makes it all worth while: the long bus rides, never knowing where you’re going to be and things like that,” he said following Wednesday’s practice. “You look back on it, it was all worth it. It was all a lot of fun and all part of the journey. It just makes me appreciate where I’m at now that much more.”
First awarded in 1968, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is presented to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”.
Previous netminders to win the award include Minnesota’s Josh Harding, Jose Theodore and Jamie McLennan.