WHEELING - Happy to be here? Scott Darling is thrilled to be in Wheeling.
The Nailers goaltender rode the bench for most of the first month of this season just hoping to get a chance. Tonight at 7, he'll make his fifth consecutive start when Wheeling battles defending Kelly Cup champion Florida at WesBanco Arena.
Ironically, Darling, a Lemont, Ill., native's first opportunity in the ECHL came last season with the Everblades. It didn't go so well as he allowed five goals on 27 shots, so the soon-to-be 24-year-old wasn't sure if he had blown the only opportunity he would get.
Tonight, Scott Darling will start his fifth consecutive game when the Nailers take on the Everblades.
''I got lit up, just like my first game here,'' said Darling, who has bounced around - mostly in lower levels like the SPHL and CHL - since leaving Maine University in 2009.
''That was because it's such a dog-eat-dog world. One bad game and you're out of there.''
Darling thought that might be the case again after he allowed another five goals, this time on 22 shots in an Oct. 20 loss against Elmira during his Wheeling debut.
''The first game I definitely felt that way because it's not easy this year,'' Darling said. ''It's hard enough to be in this league (because of the NHL lockout).
''It's the longest I have been in this league.''
A funny thing happened, though. Darling was signed to a professional tryout agreement with Hamilton of the AHL. Even more surprising to Darling, he was called upon in relief during the Bulldogs' 4-1 loss to Rochester on No. 14. He stopped all eight shots he faced in front of 10,649 fans.
''I was just honored to be up there and when they put me in the game it was the most nervous moment in my life,'' Darling recalled Thursday after practice. ''It's just like a dream come true.
''That's where everybody wants to be right now.
''It was a long time, a long road to get there and I am happy I got there and would like to go back some day.''
Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli thinks Darling has the chance to move on to the AHL. He's been impressed with his attitude and work ethic.
''He's played really well since he came back from Hamilton,'' Donatelli said. ''He's a big goalie - he's 6-foot-7 and he's agile.
''He's moving well and I think he's playing with a lot of confidence right now and the guys are playing well in front of him.''
Darling finished the month of November with a 3-2-0 record, including his first ECHL shutout, a 1.81 goals-against average and a save percentage of .923. It helps that his defense limited the opposition to an average of a little more than 23 shots during that span.
''In a perfect game you would have 23 nice, simple shots. The guys played a couple games where I only had in the teens for shots, so I can't really ask for much more than that,'' Darling said. ''(Elmira) had a couple more the last game, but they scored four goals for me. It makes my life easy.''
Where Darling stands on the Nailers depth chart remains to be seen.
Darling is going under the assumption that Patrick Killeen is still the No. 1, but says he'll take whatever opportunities the team affords him.
''I knew coming in that Killer is a great goalie and he's been here for three years,'' Darling said. ''I knew that it wasn't like I was going to step in and play right away, and I was fine with that.
''You know, if Killer starts playing again I am going to keep practicing hard.
''This is a dream come true.''