The Ladder Down
Darling battled alcoholism since the age of 17. In his Players Tribune story, Scott said it all began as a way to deal with the social anxiety which he experienced. He described himself as an introvert who lived inside of his own brain; obsessed with what other people were thinking about him.
That doesn’t mix well with a career centered around how people judge your performance.
If you want to make it in hockey, you’ve got to travel to play against some of the best of the best. At 14, Scott was traveling almost constantly meeting new people and playing with new people. Because of the social anxiety he experienced, just living on a day to day basis was a challenge which required effort for him.
“The whole routine became exhausting,” Darling said on the subject. “It was like I was wearing a mask all day.”
Scott continued, saying:
"“So when I got home, I’d drink just to shut my brain off and feel normal. I looked at it like it was my medicine. It wasn’t like I was out going crazy and getting arrested. I was sitting at home watching movies and shutting off my brain.”"
He managed to carry on despite the alcoholism, though, and went on to play D-1 hockey athletes
the University of Maine. Meanwhile, he was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes. Darling showed up thinking he was on his way. Smooth sailing.
However, that didn’t go as he’d planned. He describes his time as trying to “be D-I hockey player and a student and a party animal.”
That didn’t bode well. He was late for nearly everything because, more often than not, he’d be hungover. Day in and day out, the drinks continued to fall. Darling said he simply couldn’t stop. Then at the end of his second year of school, he got news which probably should’ve stopped him.
"I had a meeting with my coaches. They told me that I wasn’t accountable, and that they needed a starting goalie that they could trust. I was off the team."
Rather, because he was young and immature, he decided he didn’t need college. He went off to try and make the Phoenix Coyotes.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, Phoenix sent him down to their ECHL affiliate in what was probably the worst place for Darling to go: Las Vegas, Nevada.
Darling spend only a handful of weeks there before missing a practice and being told to “Pack your s***.”
"So I packed my s***. Only … I had nowhere else to go. I was already at the bottom of the ladder. Well, the lowest rung except for something called the Southern Professional Hockey League. I had a friend who played for the Louisiana IceGators and I called him up and literally said, “Hey, uh … do you guys need a goalie?”"
Scott pleaded for $200 from his mom to fly to Louisiana for a try out with the club. He got it, and Darling got the job with the team. As you can imagine, playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League is a little bit different than playing D-1 hockey. Drastically different than playing NHL hockey.
"“I had fallen so far, and instead of facing the reality, I drank to forget it. I was only making $200 a week, so my routine was pretty sad. 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. And then I’d go home and drink on the couch. That was my whole day.”"
That routine carried on for a number of months. Foot-longs and cheap booze proved to not be the exact formula for success.
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Darling hit rock bottom when his dad came to watch him play for the first, and last time. Scott played well enough for the team to get the win. He was feeling well, as anyone would after playing the net in a win. However, he wasn’t greeted by his father how he would’ve liked to.
“You shouldn’t be here, Scott.” Darling’s dad told him. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Following the season, Louisiana told him they wouldn’t be inviting him back for another season. Once again, Darling found himself out of a job. With every step down the ladder he took, the light at the end of the tunnel became darker and darker. His dream looked less and less possible. Only this time, there wasn’t another rung on the ladder for Scott to step down onto.
"“One morning, I woke up hungover and I finally just said, ‘F*** this. I’m done. Get me to rehab.'”"