May 10, 2020
In Appreciation of Scott Darling
By Jeb Bohn
The End in Raleigh
On June 30, Scott Darling was shipped off to the Florida Panthers—who promptly bought out his contract—ending his tumultuous tenure with the Carolina Hurricanes. Just over two years prior, Darling seemed poised to step in as the Canes’ savior between the pipes. The dark age of inconsistent goaltending would be over.
Early on, it became obvious that wouldn’t be the case. Something was off: the focus didn’t seem to be there, his confidence was MIA, and his lateral movement was a step behind.
Despite this, Darling won his first start, notching 23 saves in a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Consistency proved to be an issue as by mid-November Darling held a record of 5-4-4 with a .905 save percentage.
Once the calendar ticked over to 2018, his record had fallen to 8-11-6 and his save percentage sat at .896. As a result, Darling had an almost dead-even split in playing time with longtime Hurricane Cam Ward, the latter having the edge in wins, goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts.
Offseason Hope Fades
After a disastrous first season, Darling spent the summer of 2018 training with Bill Burniston, Carolina’s head strength and conditioning coach. He came into camp in better shape and looked ready to fulfill the hopes that had been pinned on him.
Early on, it looked like he might do just that.
While his preseason play wasn’t flawless, Darling looked like a much more focused goaltender. His movement and reflexes looked to be a step ahead from the previous season. Things seemed to be on an upward tick for the 6’6″ goalie until an injury in the final game of the preseason put him on the sidelines.
With the regular season fast approaching and the Hurricanes in need of a goalie to compliment the newly-acquired Petr Mrazek, GM Don Waddell claimed veteran backup Curtis McElhinney from the waiver wire.
The tandem played well enough that Darling was squeezed out and placed on waivers before being reassigned to the AHL Charlotte Checkers. Despite still being under contract, the Scott Darling era in Carolina was effectively over.
A Deeper Look
Now, that could be the end of this blog; a high-level overview of the past two years of Darling’s career. That would be a disservice. I have a hell of a lot of respect for what Scott Darling has accomplished in life and his time with the Hurricanes has done nothing to diminish that.
Darling endeared himself to fans with the story of how he reached the NHL: struggling at the lowest levels of professional hockey, battling alcohol abuse and declining self-confidence before making a strong showing in the AHL and landing his first NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2014-2015 season.
He cemented his place in Chicago legend with a stunning playoff performance against the Nashville Predators in 2015 and became the first Chicago-area native to win the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.
That alone is a story worthy of a Hollywood biopic, but that’s not why I’m writing this.
The Human Element
Having struggled with mental health throughout my adult life, Darling’s refusal to give up constitutes the root of my respect. He easily could have walked away from the game and into hockey obscurity when he was at his lowest; Darling could have embraced his problem with alcohol at the expense of all else; he could have pitied himself and pouted, believing that he was owed a fate greater than where he found himself.
Instead, he sought help for his problems and worked his ass off to get to where he wanted to be. For a guy who has embraced the image of the Phoenix and the motto “Luctor et Emergo” (struggle and emerge), it should come as no surprise.
After the trade to Carolina, Darling penned a heartfelt letter to the fans of the Blackhawks, the team he grew up rooting for, and the team that gave them his shot at the NHL. It was a classy move and one that further cemented the admiration that many hockey fans feel toward him.
I urge all of you to read the full letter. If you’ve read it before, read it again. If you are struggling with anxiety or alcoholism, read it now. Maybe you’re a perfectly well-adjusted human being. Read it anyway, because it is phenomenal.
Throughout his time in Raleigh, I would find myself relating to the mindset of fighting to push through the darkness. Because of this, I never lost hope that he would find his footing in the NHL again. I still have that hope, even though it won’t be with the Hurricanes.
More than that, I hope that he’s in a good place and that he’s okay. I hope he continues to grow as a person.
So, here’s to Scott Darling. I wish you all the best. Keep writing your story!