Scott Darling had hit rock bottom.
The former University of Maine goalie had just concluded the 2010-11 season playing for the Louisiana IceGators in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
The sixth-round draft choice of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007 had posted a 6-22 record for a team that suffered through a 20-game losing streak.
Darling said the IceGators administration told him they didn’t want him back.
“You wake up one day and you realize just two years ago, you were one of the top prospects in the country. Now you don’t have anything you were supposed to have. You wonder why and you realize there is one huge factor holding you back from what you want to accomplish in life,” Darling said on Wednesday.
That factor was the combination of an anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse.
“I had a moment. Enough was enough. I had to change my outlook on life. I started doing things right,” said Darling.
It began with sobering up and he has been sober for four years now.
Darling doesn’t consider himself an alcoholic.
“I just say I wasn’t a happy person. I don’t live my life in recovery. I just don’t partake (in alcohol) any more. It’s out of the picture for me,” said Darling. “I’ve been fine ever since that day.”
Jump ahead four years and Darling was hoisting the Stanley Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks last month.
Darling went 3-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage as the Blackhawks ousted Nashville in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Starter Corey Crawford had struggled early in the series, leading to Darling’s promotion. But he won the job back in Game 6 when Darling allowed three goals in the first 12 minutes.
Even so, Darling had done his job. He later had the opportunity to take the Stanley Cup to his hometown of Lemont, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
Darling shared the trophy with his family, the people in Lemont and his hockey buddies and coaches, who showed up for a party.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Darling, who also shared it with several of his UMaine friends and former teammates.
In charting his ascension from hockey purgatory to the NHL, Darling said he had plenty of help.
His family played an important role and he said his agent, Matt Keator, was “awesome.
“Matt stuck with me. He did all the work. He’s the reason I’m where I am,” said Darling, noting it would have been easy for Keator to focus on his more productive NHL clients.
The 6-foot-6, 232-pound Darling said there were two turning points in his remarkable climb.
He was playing for Wheeling of the ECHL in 2012-13 when he received a call-up to Hamilton of the American Hockey League. Darling played 30 minutes in one game there.
“Even though I had only eight shots, I made some good saves,” Darling said.
“It was big for me to play (well) at a level one step away from the NHL.”
The next year, he was invited to the Predators’ preseason camp and practiced with top-flight NHL stars.
“I was able to get some experience and build my confidence. I started to believe in myself and that I could actually play in the NHL,” Darling said.
He had a productive season with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL, then signed with the Blackhawks prior to last season.
Darling shone for Chicago’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs (14-8-2, 2.20, .927). Injuries to Crawford meant Darling appeared in 14 regular-season games (9-4, 1.94, .936).
In February, he signed a two-year, $1,175,000 contract extension.
Darling, a lifelong Blackhawks fan, spent the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons at UMaine. He admits his partying got the better of him.
He was suspended three times for violating of team rules and was eventually dismissed from the team.
“Obviously, the extra-curriculars got in my way. I wasn’t in a great state of mind,” Darling admitted.
He harbors no ill will against UMaine or his coaches.
“I’m proud to be affiliated with the school. I met a lot of great people there,” he said.
His classmates included Gustav Nyquist, Brian Flynn, Will O’Neill and Spencer Abbott and, “it’s great to see them doing well (in pro hockey). Our class was pretty prominent in the school’s history,” Darling said.
He stays in touch with former Maine assistant Grant Standbrook, who gives him tips on a regular basis.
“Grant has been huge for me,” said Darling.
Last summer, Darling returned to the campus after meeting head hockey coach Red Gendron, who asked if he would talk to all UMaine’s freshman student-athletes.
“I shared my story with them. I made them aware what can happen if you don’t do the right things. It was nice to talk to them and try to rebuild the bridge I burned there,” said Darling. “It was cool.”
Darling’s message preaches hard work and doing the right things to achieve success.
He is looking forward to the upcoming season, even though he is playing behind one of the NHL’s best in Crawford.
“I’m just starting to hit my stride and I’m learning a lot from Corey, who is a great goalie partner. I just want to keep getting better and do my job.”
Darling, once a 10-year-old who was speechless upon meeting Blackhawks goaltending great Eddie Belfour, is a man youngsters look up to now.
And he is enjoying every minute of it.