How Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia went from playing roller hockey in California to the NHL
When Collin Delia was growing up in California, there weren't an abundance of ice skating rinks near his home.
So he took up roller hockey.
From the start -- at 4 or 5 years old -- he loved playing goalie, so he kept having his mom put his name on the signup sheet.
Week after week after week.
"We had one set of goalie gear. And we would switch off," Delia said. "So I kept on volunteering, and they're like, 'Why don't you just be the permanent goalie?'
"It just stuck."
And now, 20 years later, it's beginning to look like Delia -- who has been impressive since being called up from Rockford in the wake of Corey Crawford's concussion -- could be the Blackhawks' goalie of the future.
Delia was still playing roller hockey at 12 when he realized he'd love to play goalie in college. Delia's parents made it clear he was going to have to strap on some skates to make that dream a reality.
After opening enough eyes in juniors, Delia enrolled at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts -- 3,000 miles from home.
"First year was tough," Delia said. "A few trials and tribulations, but it was really good for my maturation."
Delia appeared in nine games as a freshman in 2014-15, steadily improved and was invited to Blackhawks development camp at Johnny's IceHouse West in 2016. After impressing team brass, the Hawks brought Delia back the next summer and signed him to a two-year deal.
"We made a decision sort of on the spot. This guy was better than any of the other goalies we had," General Manager Stan Bowman said. "He showed us a couple years in a row what he might be able to do. He's just one of those guys who continues to push himself to be better year after year."
Caution: Bumps ahead
Delia's pro career began with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL, which is two levels below the NHL. He went 1-7-0, had an .887 save percentage and 4.12 goals-against average in 10 games in Indy, but nonetheless found himself as Rockford's starter last December when J.F. Berube went down with an injury.
Much like he's done the past two weeks, Delia took advantage of the opportunity, but it wasn't like it happened by accident. Delia credits IceHogs goaltending coach Peter Aubry for much of his development, saying "He just made me aware of the level of detail that goes into being successful."
At that point three things happened for Delia:
• The game slowed down.
• He quit worrying about his numbers every night.
• He was playing on a consistent basis.
"Games played is a huge part of any goaltender's development," Delia said. "(You) see the situations and make those reads to form the muscle memory.
"You preprogram yourself. There's so much of the game where you're on autopilot."
With everything clicking -- for Delia and the rest of his teammates -- Rockford rolled through the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs. Delia went 7-0 against the Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose, posting a .948 save percentage and 1.64 GAA.
The IceHogs' run ended against Texas in the Western Conference Final, and Delia gained valuable experience by helping lead a team within 2 wins of the Calder Cup Final.
"With a bigger opportunity, with better coaching, with a lot of attention, you're putting a lot of resources into him," Bowman said. "You want the player to take hold of it themselves, put it all together and take the next step.
"He's done it. He's a quick study. He's a really ambitious kid … he takes guidance, he's very coachable. I think that's played a large role in his rapid improvement."
Long way to go
After spending last summer training in Switzerland, Delia picked up where he left off with the IceHogs this season, posting an AHL-best .933 save percentage and allowed just 2.34 goals per game in 17 appearances.
Since being called up from Rockford, he's gone 3-0-0 for the Hawks and allowed just 5 goals while facing 116 shots.
It's a small sample size, but fair to wonder if we're seeing the Hawks' next starting goalie mature before our eyes.
Whether it's against the Islanders on Thursday or sometime later this month, there will be bumps in the road. That's the nature of the position and the nature of growing as a pro athlete.
Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton expects it.
And in some ways, he welcomes it.
"You (have) to go through a period of adversity and then he can use it as a springboard going forward," Colliton said. "We have this conversation about individual players -- sometimes they come out of the lineup or sometimes they don't play for a while or they get taken off the power play. Whatever it is, Delia is a perfect example.
"He was in the East Coast League, but it didn't mean he wasn't a huge prospect. He had the chance then and he has the chance now to be a great player in this league."
And to think, it all started with roller hockey. In case you were wondering, Delia didn't totally hog the net when he was a kid.
"First game I played out, I scored 2 goals in like 20 seconds," said Delia, who added with a laugh, "and my parents are like, 'Why, why, why do you want to be goalie?' "
There's a simple answer -- as soon as he strapped on the pads, it just felt right.
"I knew I wanted to do something with it," Delia said. "I didn't know to what degree, but I knew it was the position for me."
How far Delia goes remains to be seen. What isn't in doubt, however, is the 24-year-old's impressive one-day-at-a-time attitude.
He knows he hasn't proven a thing.
Not yet, anyway.
"I'm not the type of person that gets high and low with wins and losses," Delia said after being asked what he thought about after beating the Avs Dec. 21. "I don't want results to dictate myself emotionally.
"I took it as a win (and) I moved on. I put my head on the pillow that night, woke up and it was over.
"Came to work the next day and have to prove everything all over again."