Curtis Darling didn’t know where he would wind up after the 2009-10 season ended, but unless he got a call from the American Hockey League, it wasn’t going to be in a hockey crease somewhere.
Darling, who played in 57 games last season – the most ever for a Reign goalie – was done chasing the dream.
“That’s the thing with hockey,” he said. “It’s so much fun to play, and I had such a good year in Ontario. For me, anyway, it’s the ultimate golden carrot, where there’s always a little light at the end of the tunnel and you can get caught chasing the dream forever.
“There were ECHL offers, but the goal is to keep moving up. Most people can understand that – you want to keep moving up in life. It’s time to pursue other interests. That’s what it boiled down for me.”
Darling didn’t have to wait long for his next job.
Greg Puhalski, Darling’s head coach from 2007-09 with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, offered his former goaltender one of two assistant coaching positions at Wilfrid Laurier University. The Golden Hawks play in CIS (the Canadian version of the NCAA), where Darling played collegiately for the University of Waterloo.
Darling, who has never coached outside of a hockey camp, jumped at the chance.
“I was pretty honored that he asked me, especially considering it’s my first coaching job,” he said. “Asking you to step in a coaching role after seeing the way you play, I was humbled.”
Not only was the 27-year-old not actively pursuing a coaching position, he didn’t even know what line of work to pursue next. If he had gotten an AHL call, Darling said “it would probably have played a factor” in his decision to retire. But that was a moot point.
“I heard from other coaches and scouts that I played well and had good ability, but they wanted to see more consistency,” Darling said. “Last year I thought I had more consistency, but I wasn’t able to move up.
“I had a great time, I loved playing in Ontario, but I wasn’t moving up. … It was my third year in the ECHL. Most people at that point had seen what I could do.”
Laurier is based in Waterloo, Ontario, about 90 minutes west of Toronto. So not only is Darling returning to his former league, but he’ll be able to live and work in the same city where he went to college.
“If this opportunity came along somewhere else,” he said, “I don’t know if I would be able to take it.”