Goaltender Scott Darling thanked his hometown Chicago Blackhawks in an article in the Players' Tribune on Tuesday and detailed his journey from addiction to a big contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Darling, 28, has spoken about his experience with alcoholism in the past, but in the article he offered more details to put his departure from Chicago in perspective.
"For the past few months, I've been trying to figure out how to say goodbye to Chicago, and I just couldn't find the words. In writing this story, I got choked up four or five different times. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but that's only if you don't know how low of a place I clawed my way up from."
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Darling said he always suffered from anxiety. By the time he was in junior hockey at age 17, he was practicing and then drinking alone just to "feel normal."
He said this pattern followed him to the University of Maine and then started to catch up with him. Missed meetings and practices resulted in him being kicked off the team. That started a journey through 13 or 14 minor league hockey teams.
At some point in the journey, he ended up on a team in Lafayette, Louisiana, making $200 per week.
"After practice I would go to Subway and get a $5 foot-long, and then I'd go to the liquor store and get the cheapest bottle possible," he wrote. "And then I'd go home and drink on the couch. That was my whole day."
Darling said that his bottom didn't come in dramatic fashion. He was just "so, so, so tired."
In 2014, he went to rehab and began to work his way back. Against the odds, Darling went from out of shape playing for a low minor league team, to the AHL and finally to the team he grew up rooting for, the Blackhawks.
And he wasn't just an inessential backup. He became a key part of the 2015 playoffs, backstopping the Hawks past the Predators in the first round after Corey Crawford struggled. Crawford returned after that series, and the Hawks went all the way to a title, but they couldn't have done it without Darling.
"When the clock hit zero, it was chaos. I was standing at the very back of the line waiting for the Cup, and somebody handed it to me, and I did something that I never do. I screamed in public," Darling wrote.
Darling played two more seasons in Chicago, making himself a top backup the Blackhawks ultimately couldn't afford. Chicago traded him to Carolina on April 28 in exchange for a draft pick, and he signed a four-year contract worth $16.6 million.
He's on to the next chapter in his career and life, but saying goodbye to Chicago "seemed so overwhelming."
He did it by telling his unlikely story.
"It was amazing to represent my city and play for my favorite team," Darling wrote. "Top to bottom that organization is filled with amazing people. They all treated me like I belonged. The front office was great to me, my coaches were amazing to me and treated me like an NHL goalie."
"It all means more to me than anyone will ever understand," Darling wrote before thanking them and Chicago.