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."
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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