Uplifting goaltending stories in the NHL seem to be becoming the norm in recent times.
Probably due to a combination of an increase in depth of talent through the leagues in that position and the fact it’s such a singular position that those stories always normally come to our attention more.
One that struck me was that of Scott Darling, a former University of Maine graduate, who made his NHL debut this season at the age of 25.
All a far cry from 2010/11 season he spent with the Louisiana IceGators in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Darling would also spend the majority of the following year in the SPHL, this time with the Mississippi River Kings, but it would prove to be the turning point of his career.
Making a conscious decision to turn his life around which included losing weight, no more alcohol and working hard with goaltending coach Brian Daccord, all in the cause of making his ambition to become an NHL goaltender.
Joining the River Kings who had moved over from the CHL, was only a positive thing for him as all his statistics improved dramtically and he recorded 15 of their 25 regulation wins that season. It also saw him record his first game at the ECHL level which was an entirely unpleasant experience as he allowed five goal on 22 shots in net for Florida.
It would be onwards and upwards for Darling though as the Wheeling Nailers came calling and he played 32 times in the ECHL in 2012/13 but perhaps more importantly he received a shot in the AHL.
When I say a “shot” I mean just that as the Hamilton Bulldogs signed him as cover on a PTO and he would receive just 24:32 in relief time of Robert Mayer. Mayer had allowed four goals and although Darling stopped all eight shots he faced, Hamilton were to fall 4-1. The irony being the first team he faced in the AHL were the Rockford IceHogs. Darling would receive a couple of more call-ups, this time to Wilkes-Barre Scranton but no more ice time in the AHL that season.
He would take another step up the ladder however, as the Milwaukee Admirals signed him in June of 2013.
He bounced between Milwaukee and their ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati, with the majority of his starts in the AHL. He let down neither team however and his play remained extremely consistent, so much so that come the summer of 2014 the Chicago Blackhawks signed him to a two way/one year deal.
His first NHL contract and the only time an NHL team had showed interest in him since being drafted by what were the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007 as a sixth round pick.
Doubtless the Chicago organisation had seen plenty of him as Milwaukee and Rockford are AHL divisional rivals and were looking to shore up their goaltending depth after a disappointing season where Rockford finished four points out of the playoffs.
Roll forward to this current fairytale season where Darling was presented with his NHL debut thanks to injuries. He made his NHL debut on October 26, 2014, against the Ottawa Senators.
He was instrumental in a 2-1 victory, making 32 saves.
Now back with Rockford after seven games on the big stage, his record of 5-2 and a goals against average under two has cemented him as Chicago’s number three and surely given him plenty of leverage come the end of his contract in July.
His play in the AHL has been similarly good and currently Rockford lead their division and look set for a playoff spot. He’s 11-7-2 with a pair of shutouts and statistics which almost resemble his NHL numbers.
Should Rockford go deep in the post-season, no doubt Darling will have a huge part to play.
For the man who has a phoenix on the back of his goalie mask symbolising his journey in recent years and the motto Luctor et Emergo”, meaning struggle and emerge, you wouldn’t put it past Scott Darling to continue his rise through the goaltending ranks.