Scott Darling never stopped being a fan. That's why the time he spent with his hometown team, which led him to hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2015 and sharing the net with two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, was even more special.
Beginning with the 2014-15 season, Darling spent three years being Crawford's goalie partner.
"Early on, I came in as a fanboy. It was really cool for me to meet him and realize he's human like I am," Darling told NBC Sports Chicago. "And even though I was starstruck by him after watching him for so many years and watching him win his first Cup and being a Hawks fan, he's just a great guy. ... He is the nicest guy, the best goalie partner you could ever ask for. We had a great friendship for those three years."
Darling was worried that his relationship with Crawford would change after Darling's four consecutive starts in Games 3-6 of the 2015 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Nashville Predators after Crawford struggled in the series. Crawford was back in net to start the next round, their relationship only improved during the first-round series, and the rest is history.
"No, it actually didn't. And for me, like I said, as a fanboy of Corey I was worried it was going to, but it didn't," Darling said. "All he did was work harder and get ready. We both knew he was going to take the net back at some point. I was kind of just holding on while we figured out that first series and then it's like, 'We'll get back to Crow and he'll be fine.'
"So he just worked harder and helped me and it boosted my confidence so much because he would give me pep talks and be like, 'You're doing great,' to hear that from Corey Crawford, for me as a fan, is just super cool. He was great and it didn't affect our relationship at all. Even though I thought it would, but it never did."
Scott, who played for HC Innsbruck of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga — Austria's top hockey league — last season and is now hoping to play in the American Hockey League for a team in the US, was as shocked to hear the news the Hawks wouldn't be bringing back Crawford as everyone else.
"I did not see that coming. I don't know much, I'm kind of on the outside now... I don't know the intricate details of offers and the back and forth with them, but it's going to be very weird to see Corey in a different jersey and to not have him be the goalie for the Hawks," Darling said. "I was a fan of his before I ever was his teammate and I've been a fan of his since and it's just going to be a very weird changing of the guard in Chicago."
Getting to have a front row seat and then some to Crawford's understated and underrated brilliance, Darling learned firsthand just how valuable Crawford was to the Blackhawks.
"He's been overshadowed by the big names in Chicago like (Duncan) Keith, (Brent) Seabrook, (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Kane... that's what everyone gravitates to, but Crow is the most underrated goalie in the past decade in my opinion," Darling said. "I always loved watching him play, but getting to play on his team and watch him every day and in practice, he's so good and he's still so good. That's why this move is kind of shocking to me, because I think they're going to have a hard time competing if he's not their goalie. He's been quietly the backbone of the team for three or four years now."