Scott Darling

Former Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling leaves Europe as COVID-19 spreads

Former Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling leaves Europe as COVID-19 spreads

Former Blackhawks goalie and 2015 Stanley Cup champion Scott Darling was playing in the Austrian Hockey League (HC Tiroler Wasserkraft Innsbruck of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga) as COVID-19 began spreading across Europe. 

Darling plays in Innsbruck, Austria, about a 20 minute drive from the Italian border. Italy has been severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak

Darling, a Lemont Illinois native, and his team were eliminated from playoff contention, and he was able to return to the United States before the travel ban went into place.

"Shortly after I left, they canceled the whole league, and things got pretty serious there," Darling told NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan on Friday during Sports Talk Live. 

"We heard about it, but obviously we all know a lot more now," he said. "This was like a month or two ago. There was the first case in Vienna, which is, like, four hours from us, and then we heard about Italy, and we were like, 'Oh, we're right there. Is this the real thing?'

"You learn a little bit, but now we know a lot more. All of a sudden, a hotel in Innsbruck got quarantined, and we're all like, 'Oh boy, this is real.' And then for me personally, I was worried about the flight restrictions, was hoping I could get home.” 

Scott was concerned he wouldn't make it back to the U.S. as the pandemic worsened. 

"I was worried I'd be stuck there,” he said. Luckily, I made it out before the flight ban. But even so, I see now that Americans can still come back to the U.S., but that was my biggest concern."

When Darling was checking in on family and friends in America, the situation didn’t sound nearly as bad as what he was experiencing in Europe. 

"I think when I was there, it was kind of a bigger deal there than it was here, because now it's like crazy obviously with everybody shutting down. I had tickets to a comedy show tonight. It got canceled. 

"It's, like, really going off here, but when I was there, there's this team in the league that's in Italy, and, like, every team was afraid to go play them. We didn't want to go down there. 

"They canceled handshakes after the game and stuff like that. It was a pretty unique experience."

RELATED: Where things stand with Blackhawks during COVID-19 hiatus

One of Darling’s teammates recently went to Italy on a day off. He and his teammates haven't shown any symptoms, but they're shocked the player went across the border.

"We weren't that well-informed. Like, guys on the team who have wives and kids and pregnant wives were really worried about that because at the time, we thought kids were very vulnerable to it. 

"One day, we had a guy on an off day go down to Italy, and we're like, 'Dude, what are you doing?' He comes back in the locker room the next day, and we're like, 'Stay away from us.' We got a league-wide email, no handshakes after the game. Fans started to be less and less every game, and, like I said, I'm just happy I made it out of there."

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Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling to take leave of absence from Hurricanes

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USA TODAY

Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling to take leave of absence from Hurricanes

Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling is taking a personal leave of absence from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Don Waddell, the Hurricanes general manager, announced the move on Sunday.

Darling has played in just eight games with the Hurricanes this season, holding a 3.33 GAA and .884 save percentage. He has spent much of the season in the AHL; in 14 games with the Charlotte Checkers, Darling has a 3.40 GAA and .882 save percentage.

“Since he’s been down there he’s had some good games and some bad games,” Waddell said to the Charlotte Observer. “He had a tough game the other night and his agent called me and said he would like to take a personal leave of absence and would we allow that to get his mind back together."

Waddell told Darling to "take a week" and said that Darling's decision is not performance-based.

“No, I think it’s him trying to get his mind around it," he said. "He’s obviously has had a tough year on the ice and he needs, from a mental standpoint, needs to regroup basically.

“We all know he’s had ups and downs in his career, and we’ll be supportive. He’s still under contract for two more years and we’ve got to see if we can get this thing back together.”

Darling played for the Blackhawks from 2014-17 before being traded to the Hurricanes on April 28, 2017. He signed a four-year, $16.6 million contract with the Hurricanes a week later.

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Scott Darling victorious in return to United Center

Scott Darling victorious in return to United Center

It hasn't been the breakout year as a starter that Scott Darling was hoping for, but the former Blackhawk got a win in his old stadium on Thursday night.

Darling made 22 saves in a 3-2 Hurricanes win at the United Center. It marked Darling's first game back in Chicago after he played for the Blackhawks each of the past three seasons.

The Blackhawks honored Darling with a video during the game, although Darling said he missed some of it. Overall, Darling said he received a "warm reception" from fans and the team.

"This organization is really first class when it comes to stuff like that and welcoming players back and I really appreciate that," Darling said. "I know my family was able to see it and it was a great night."

Darling, who was traded to Carolina this offseason, was pegged to be the Hurricanes' starter, but struggled and lost the job. Darling has still made a career-high 33 starts with a chunk of the season still to play, but also has the lowest save percentage of his career. He is sitting at .890, which is well below his three years with the Blackhawks where he averaged a .923 save percentage.

Darling's first game against the Blackhawks came back on Nov. 11 in Carolina, a game which the Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. This time Darling got the better of his former team, although Patrick Sharp did score on him, which Darling thinks will be brought up again.

"All these guys are great friends," Darling said. "I'm sure I'm going to hear it from Sharpy for scoring on me and guys were coming by during the play and saying hi to me. It was pretty funny. It was a great group and I miss the guys a lot."