On June 30th, Scott Darling was shipped off to the Florida Panthers (who then 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 and end a dark age of inconsistent goaltending. 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 he was slow-moving. It's well-known that he showed up to his first camp with Carolina overweight, perhaps feeling that he had achieved his goal of becoming an NHL starter.
That, of course, is pure speculation.
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 is better shape and looked ready to fulfill the hopes that had been pinned on him and, 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 and his movement and reflexes 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, so much so that Darling was squeezed out and placed on waivers before being reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. Despite still being under contract, the Scott Darling era in Carolina was effectively over.
Now, that could be the end of this blog, a high-level overview of the past two years of Darling's career, but 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 lessen 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.
Having struggled with mental health for my entire adult life, Darling's battles and refusal to give up constitute the root of my respect. He easily could have walked away from the game and into hockey obscurity when he was at his lowest. He 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.
He did none of those things. Instead, he sought help for his problems and he worked his ass off to get to where he wanted to be. Then again, 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 towards 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. If you're a perfectly well-adjusted human being, read it, because it is phenomenal.
Throughout his time with the Hurricanes, I would always 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. Even now that he's moved on, I still hope that he does. More than that, I hope that he's in a place in his life where he's okay and 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!