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Deserving Darling earns day with the Cup

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
(Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks)

As further proof that Scott Darling and his suitcase have arrived, he is sporting a freshly tattooed right arm with a mosaic featuring the 2015 Stanley Cup, a background of Chicago’s skyline and initials of “CR” for Clint Reif, the team’s departed assistant equipment manager.

About a year ago, July 1 to be exact, that portion of Darling’s anatomy was bare, but not his cupboard. Off good work in the American Hockey League, he signed a free-agent contract with the Blackhawks, the team he grew up following.

“That was the greatest day in my life,” recalled Darling, who promised in an elementary school essay that he would tend goal for the Blackhawks. Dreamy stuff, to be sure, but his serpentine career path is such that landmark occasions must be constantly updated to include the next wow.

Monday now qualifies, for it was that morning and afternoon when Darling brought the Stanley Cup to Lemont. He was born to a military family in Newport News, Va., moved to Washington State, then Alabama. Just for emphasis, the graduated high school in Iowa, but in between there, from second to seventh grade, Darling resided in the south suburb he still regards as home.

That feeling was mutual for a private gathering at the plush Monte Bello Estate, followed by a public appearance among thousands at the Lemont Park District, to be concluded by an intimate party downtown in the evening. Darling is exhausted, so come Tuesday, don’t call him, he’ll call you.

But this Marco Polo of goalies, who toiled in so many remote outposts, is also glowing. Darling just bought a place in Chicago that will afford roots for him and his girlfriend, Martha Buckley. A contract extension was inked long before the tattoo. So if the suitcase that accompanied Darling hither and yon collects a little dust, well, it too can settle down and enjoy this marvelous adventure.

“Scott’s journey is a movie, and we want the screen rights,” remarked uncle Tom Dalton. “When he was a kid here, during the summer we’d play street hockey. Six on six, a best-of-seven series. We had this punch bowl, and we decorated it, dressed it all up to look like a Stanley Cup. Guys on the winning team, they’d each get it for a day. Now the real one is here, with Scott. Crazy. Coming to a theater near you.”

Thing is, in the world of cinema, stretching the facts -- or otherwise ignoring them completely -- passes for entertainment. Darling’s saga is a matter of record, based on his passion for the game that seemed destined to be filed under unrequited love. Never mind the lack of Plan B -- Plan A wasn’t exactly on cruise control, not when you’re banging on the door for a job with the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern League.

“Second chances are hard to find,” Darling mused. “I was fortunate in that way, and then I wind up in a room of superstars with the Blackhawks who made me feel welcome from the first day. Starting right with Corey Crawford, our No. 1, one of the best goalies in the world. He supported me, became my friend, invited me over to his house for dinner. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

When Crawford yielded three goals in the first period of the opening playoff match in Nashville, the Blackhawks couldn’t have asked for more from Darling. He supplied 67 minutes and 44 seconds of shutout relief before Duncan Keith’s fifth-period score clinched a 4-3 victory. Darling’s effort endeared him to fans, but they were on board early. He won his first National Hockey League start in October, then blanked the Rangers in New York, and finished with a 1.94 goals-against average.

“So many amazing moments,” said Darling, posing for pictures and high-fiving kids in No. 33 T-shirts. “Then just being part of the playoffs, feeling like I belonged, trying to contribute. Then that last night at the United Center. I learned so much being around this group of guys.”

Nearby, also wearing her No. 33 gear, was Cindy. A two-time cancer survivor, she smiled as only a mother could smile.

“Scott, when he was younger, made mistakes,” she said. “For a while, he was a mess. But his story -- even if, like he says, it’s a Disney film -- is that nothing was ever given to him. He worked to get where he is. He deserves every second of every minute of this. He earned it.”

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