SOUTH BEND, IN - Collin Delia still isn't as famous as the fellow he unintentionally helped become an overnight sensation, Scott Foster. But that dynamic is changing because Delia, the goalie who came in from the warm, has been splendid of late for the enlivened Blackhawks.
When this season commenced, Delia jotted down a few achievements he would like to realize. One was to be part of Tuesday's Winter Classic featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. That's a long way from Rockford, but he's here on merit.
In three games, Delia is 3-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .957 save percentage. When the 24-year-old from California--speaking of way out there-learned that Cam Ward would start between the pipes on New Year's Day, Delia responded as one who has quickly become someone you should know.
"I'm disappointed only because I want to play every night," said Delia. "But I couldn't be happier for Cam. He's been a great veteran in the National Hockey League, he's important to our team, and he deserves this. It's a huge deal. I see his kids running around the locker room, and I'm thinking, this is great for him. I have tremendous respect for him. He's been a rock for me to lean on. Around him, I try to be a sponge."
If Ward had been anything short of a trusted mentor, Delia might not gush so willingly. But their sudden alliance, precipitated by Corey Crawford's absence, flourishes as Delia grows into the role as a viable beacon of hope for the Blackhawks. He's composed, bright, and athletic, possessing lateral dexterity that can't easily be taught, especially in Rancho Cucamonga.
That's not a Mexican restaurant, but his hometown about 40 miles, or, depending on traffic, about four hours from Los Angeles. As a tyke, Delia was introduced to T-ball. But when he made contact, he ran to third base instead of first. His parents summarily explored another sport that wasn't quite as mundane, which was fine by him.
Roller hockey was next, then ice hockey as part of the Anaheim Junior Ducks program. At age 12, Delia put on skates and went directly to the net. He dug all that goaltending gear, and still does. During Monday's practice, moved indoors because of rain, Delia wore vintage brown pads, a la Tony Esposito.
"Lots of history here," said Delia, soaking up the Notre Dame atmosphere. "I did have participating in the Winter Classic as one of the goals for this season, because I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't. I feel like I belong in the NHL. I've visualized being here in my mind and prepared for it. But still it's a privilege to be involved in something like this. Whether I'm playing, or on the bench pulling for Cam. Great stage, unique event."
With Crawford idled by a concussion, Delia was briefly promoted to the United Center last season as a backup to Anton Forsberg. When he bowed with an injury shortly before a game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 29, Delia got the nod. Then he went down with cramps, prompting a news bulletin beyond NHL borders. Foster, an accountant in real life, was summoned to play 14 minutes as an emergency goalie. He was airtight, and soon airworthy.
"Instant celebrity," said Delia. "Yeah, Scott had to change his phone number and everything. We stay in touch. We talk every once in a while."
Delia attended Merrimack College, signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, and did some time with the Indy Fuel in the Eastern League. Last season, he was a horse for the Rockford IceHogs, endearing himself to the community with off-ice gestures and to Head Coach Jeremy Colliton with his consistency. Now they're both with the Blackhawks, and when Colliton is asked whether he's surprised about Delia's effectiveness, the reply is a polite "no." Colliton's seen it before.
What neither has witnessed is a hockey game that counts in an iconic football facility. Before this decade of enlightenment, the Blackhawks used to play in front of focus groups, people with enochlophobia, people wanting to get away from crowds. Now, the Blackhawks perspire before 80,000 at a revered university that just sent its beloved Fighting Irish football team to the college playoff at the Cotton Bowl with a sparkling 12-0 record.
(We only have a partial score available. Notre Dame 3, Clemson 3, after one quarter.)