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Blackhawks' Darling parades Cup through hometown

by Brian Hedger

LEMONT, Ill. -- The rain came down in sheets for a few minutes Monday at the Lemont Park District headquarters, soaking a crowd of people and turning Chicago Blackhawks jerseys a deeper shade of red.

Among those caught in the afternoon shower was Blackhawks backup goalie Scott Darling, who sat in the back of an old-fashioned fire truck with the Stanley Cup by his side. It may have rained on his parade, but no amount of water could dampen the mood for Darling, his family or the hundreds who showed up to watch him give the Cup a hometown hoist.

"He and I have watched those 'Day with the Cup' shows on the NHL Network before and were both like, 'Wow, how cool is that?'" said Scott R. Darling, who watched a long line of people wait to get autographs and photos with his son. "To be able to do it and bring it home and share it, I think that's what the Stanley Cup is all about. It's about sharing it with people in your family and in the community where you grew up, and it's just awesome to see the turnout. We had a heavy rainstorm, so there were a lot of wet people, and Scotty got wet too, but it was awesome."

It was the culmination of an improbable hockey rags-to-riches tale.

After playing for numerous teams in several minor leagues, overcoming some personal demons along the way, Darling had an NHL rookie season he'll never forget. It started in training camp, when he quickly caught the attention of Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and earned a contract to join the Blackhawks organization for the season.

Since then, he made his NHL debut, earned a two-year contract extension, ascended to the backup role behind No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford and even started four games against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round. Then came all the cool stuff he's done since the Blackhawks won their third NHL title in six seasons.

"It's been unbelievable," Darling said after the parade in his honor. "It's been crazy since we won. We've done a lot of great stuff, whether it was going to Wrigley Field or meeting (the band) Mumford and Sons, and today was my lucky day. I get to share the Cup with my hometown and a lot of friends and family. It's exciting."

Sharing in the excitement is Martha Buckley, his girlfriend of three years. They've been together long enough for her to fully appreciate how special this championship is to Darling and what this season has meant to him.

Days like Monday have made all the setbacks and bumps in the road worth it. Asked what she thinks it means to Darling to bring the Cup home to Lemont, Buckley paused for a moment.

"I don't think you can put it into words," she said. "When we first found out he was going to sign with Chicago, it was a very emotional moment for him. This has been such a culmination and a testament to his whole journey. This is what every kid who plays hockey dreams of growing up, and to watch somebody achieve their life's dream is pretty rare. To be a part of it is pretty special."

The people of Lemont clearly feel the same way.

Darling often mentions how proud he is to represent this town in Chicago's western suburbs, and they've returned the favor. Not only did they show up in large numbers to see him and the Cup on Monday, but Lemont residents also showed their support all through the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs via a clever social-media campaign started by Gelsosomo's Pizzeria, a Chicago-area chain restaurant that has a location in Lemont.

Darling's No. 33 was placed above "#LemontsDarling" on posters that were handed out around town. The hashtag caught on, and soon graced storefronts and local business signs.

It wasn't overlooked by Darling, who made a special trip back to Lemont following the Cup Final series to sign some autographs at the pizzeria and deliver a signed stick.

"We wanted just to stop by and genuinely say, 'We saw it, we appreciated it and we can't thank you guys enough,'" Buckley said. "I think bringing the Cup back here was definitely one of Scott's priorities, because he's felt so much love and has a great appreciation for where he's from."

Darling is just one of a number of highly accomplished athletes who grew up in Lemont, but Monday he was the top dog. Mayor Brian Reaves even announced a "Scott Darling Drive" sign will go up on Fourth Street, where Darling used to live.

"Everything in Lemont was a party for every game and when he got in against Nashville, the excitement level just went through the roof," Reaves said. "It has just carried over. It definitely fills all the bars on game nights. That's for sure. It is amazing."

It's surreal for Darling, who watched with Buckley in 2013 when the Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins to win the Cup.

Buckley, originally from Boston, rooted for her hometown Bruins. Darling supported the Blackhawks, even though he was outnumbered by his girlfriend and their friends in Boston. Two years later, he was the first of the Blackhawks to have his day with the Cup following a championship his name will be attached to forever.

"This is what you dream about," said Darling, whose latest tattoo prominently includes the Stanley Cup. "This is the pinnacle of what we work towards, so it's pretty amazing. It means a lot [to bring the Cup home]. I never forgot where I came from. I call this home. I always have my whole life."

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