Scott Darling has been working on his goodbye to Chicago for months – and it was well worth the wait.
The former Hawks goalie had just lived out a dream he had been wishing for since childhood –to win a Stanley Cup Championship with his hometown team the Chicago Blackhawks- but it was a dream he had quickly given up on following a tough battle with alcoholism.
Opening up in his emotional goodbye letter, Darling wrote in The Players’ Tribune that he “just couldn’t find the words” for his farewell to the city that embraced him with open arms, the city he dreamed of playing for.
“In writing this story, I got choked up four or five different times,” he wrote. “Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but that’s only if you don’t know how low of a place I clawed my way up from.”
In his essay, Darling reveals how exactly he lost his way, struggling to fight a seemingly unwinnable fight with alcoholism, and how he managed to turn his life around.
“The thing about alcoholism is that you never think you have a problem,” he said. “That’s how it gets you. Because it always starts small. For me, it started as a way to cope with social anxiety.”
Darling spent years jumping from team to team, falling deeper and deeper into a dark hole, until he got to a point where “drinking wasn’t a choice.”
It wasn’t until his father came to see him play with the Lafeyette IceGators that Darling said he hit “rock bottom.”
“My dad just looked at me with so much sadness in his eyes, and he said, ‘You shouldn’t be here, Scott. You shouldn’t be here,’” Darling wrote. “I get choked up every time I think about it.”
He went on to finish a stint in rehab, work as an assistant custodian for the school district where his mom was employed in suburban Chicago and continued to play minor league hockey.
“Over the next two years I felt like I played for every single team in minor league hockey,” he wrote. “My HockeyDB.com page looks ridiculous, and it’s actually missing some teams. Officially, it lists nine teams, but unofficially, it’s at least 13 or 14. Teams would call me up in emergency situations for a weekend, but sometimes I wouldn’t actually play. “
Eventually he worked his way up to playing for the AHL team in Milwaukee- and he played well. Soon after, on the three-year anniversary of his sobriety, Darling received an offer from the Blackhawks.
“I called my mom and she just screamed,” he wrote. “I called my dad and he couldn’t physically speak.”
Darling said he doesn’t remember much of his first game at the United Center.
“I blacked out on adrenaline,” he said. “I just know that I played well and we won 2–1. After the game, I was taking my gear off, and I thought, ‘Alright, that’s it. If you never play again, you can die happy.’”
He then went on to play in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup Championship with the team he had idolized since childhood.
“I remember the exact moment that it hit me,” he wrote. “It was with four minutes left in Game 6. Kaner scored to make it 2–0, and I had this realization that we were going to win the Stanley Cup. I was going to win the Stanley Cup. With the Chicago Blackhawks. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. What do I do with my hands?’”
As he took hold of the coveted trophy, Darling said he did something he’s never done before.
“I screamed in public,” he wrote. “I let out a huge, awkward roar.”
He goes on to thank his teammates and the entire Blackhawks organization for making him feel at home, like he was truly a part of something great.
“In 40 years, I’ll tell my kids about Game 1 against Nashville. I’ll tell them what it felt like to lift the Cup. But more importantly, I’ll tell them about Johnny and Brent and Duncan and Crow and Kaner and Shaw and on and on,” he wrote.
Darling was traded to Carolina, but his heart will always be with Chicago.
“It all means more to me than anyone will ever understand,” he wrote. “I love you, guys. I love you, Chicago. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”