Scott Darling says he’s sorry. He’s remorseful and thankful and ready to learn from his mistakes.

His contrition won’t put him back on the ice in front of the goal when the University of Maine begins a best-of-three quarterfinal series in the Hockey East playoffs against UMass-Lowell on Friday night in Orono. At a time when his teammates need him most, he won’t be there. He understands that now.

Will you?

Darling is Maine’s No. 1 goaltender and a sophomore. Last Friday, he was suspended indefinitely by Coach Tim Whitehead for breaking team rules. He was suspended for two games at the start of this season. He was benched for another game later in the season.

The university says there are no criminal matters associated with this issue and that he has not been charged with violating the student-athlete code of conduct. Because of confidentiality rules, the university will not divulge what team rules were broken.

Just know that Darling is a habitual offender. If that sounds a little harsh, call it a player control foul. Darling’s bad decisions, if not bad behavior, provoked the indefinite suspension and let his teammates down. He can only blame himself, and does.

“I’ll be away from the team for a while as I deal with personal issues,” said Darling in a statement he authorized the university to make on his behalf. “I understand the reasons for my suspension and accept responsibility for my actions.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches and our fans and I will work hard to return to the program when Coach Whitehead decides it is appropriate. I am thankful for the support I have received and (will) return ready to contribute in a significant way.”

Joe Carr, Maine’s director of university relations, said the statement was released at Darling’s request. Carr explained to Darling the pros and cons of going public, even in two brief paragraphs, when they met Tuesday.

“We talked for a long time,” said Carr. “I don’t think they’re words he thought he should say. I believe this came from his heart.”

Apologies are important. You hear them a lot. Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 freshman basketball player at Baylor, apologized for breaking the nose of a Texas Tech opponent recently.

“I let my emotions get the better of me and am deeply sorry,” Griner said.

The NCAA suspended her for one game. Her coach suspended her for an additional game, Baylor’s opener in the conference tournament this week.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz apologized last summer for “being a distraction” after it was said his name was on that infamous 2003 list of ballplayers who allegedly tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs. Mark McGwire apologized for using steroids.

Explanations are also important, but only occasionally are they heard. Darling is 21. Did he ever consider his decisions weren’t only hurting him but his teammates as well?

Teams are families, and Darling should have plenty of brothers in the Maine locker room. They will be part of his support in the weeks and months that follow.

Apologies don’t absolve and can’t turn back the clock. Darling was one of several reasons Maine critics were quieted as the team won the types of games it lost last season. Maine hockey earned attention for the right reasons.

It could again. Whitehead has to decide which of his two backup goalies gets Friday’s start. Go with freshman Shawn Sirman and accelerate his learning curve. Or turn to Dave Wilson, the senior who has succeeded at times despite his many disappointments.

Go back to February 2007. Ben Bishop has a strained groin and leaves the ice amid the storm that is every Maine-New Hampshire hockey game at the Whittemore Center. Wilson comes on and gives up the tying and go-ahead goals on UNH power plays. He didn’t let another puck slip past for nearly 30 minutes, keeping Maine in the game.

The next week Wilson makes his first start and 32 saves in a 5-1 victory over Vermont. The next night he has a 1-0 shutout.

But he never stepped out of Bishop’s big shadow. He never became a go-to goalie.

Off the ice, he had his own problems last season when he was accused of assaulting a former girlfriend. The charges were dismissed for insufficient evidence. Wilson was suspended from the hockey team. He could have walked away. Instead, he asked to come back.

Darling’s penalty could yet be Wilson’s opportunity. Darling’s absence to take care of “personal issues” could yet be a rallying moment.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]