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Goalie Collin Delia ‘frothing at the mouth’ as he eyes Blackhawks’ vacant starting job

Delia has spent the fall perfecting his rebound control and taking up Pilates as the biggest opportunity of his career awaits.

Collin Delia hasn’t played in the NHL since spring of 2019, but he’s the odds-on favorite to be the Blackhawks’ starting goalie this coming season.
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Collin Delia, midway through an in-depth discussion about rebound control, paused when he heard his 5-month-old son, Anderson, wailing in the distance.

“He’s crying right now,” Delia said, a bright smile spreading across his face. “He must be hungry.”

The joy is a welcome change after an emotionally chaotic past year in which Delia’s personal life often siphoned his attention from hockey.

Last fall, he and his girlfriend, Ava Lammers, were shocked by an unexpected pregnancy and overwhelmed by health complications she experienced. His play with the Rockford IceHogs suffered; he started the season 2-5-0 with an .863 save percentage.

He was able to re-establish himself as one of the AHL’s top goaltenders, going 14-8-1 with a .927 save percentage between Dec. 3 and March 7, only for a global pandemic to strike in the final months of Lammers’ pregnancy.

He anticipated a full offseason of family time after Anderson’s birth on June 10 but was pulled away by the NHL’s restart. Then he lost the Blackhawks’ training camp competition to Malcolm Subban and sat alone and idle as the third-string goalie for a month in the NHL playoff bubble.

But this fall, Delia finally has restored order to his life. He has spent copious amounts of time with Lammers and Anderson at home. He has vacationed with family on both coasts. He has reflected on the ups and downs of the 2019-20 season and learned from the low points.

“I don’t think it’s that I wasn’t ready, [but] there was a lot on my plate that I was focusing on instead,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t distracted. . . . There was a little bit of discontentment on my part because I felt cheated of that time with my boy.

“But looking back, you have a job, you have a responsibility, you’re being paid by the organization, and they expect a certain level of professionalism and acuity. While there is sacrifice on my behalf, on my family’s behalf, if you’re going to achieve anything, you’re sacrificing where some people may not want to sacrifice.”

It’s with a reinvigorated drive that Delia will attack the upcoming season.

And, as it turns out, an enormous opportunity awaits. With Corey Crawford gone and the Hawks committed to their young goalies, the starting job is wide open for him to claim.

“I’d be remiss if I said I wasn’t frothing at the mouth,” Delia said. “It’s an opportunity not many people get, and I don’t want to let that pass me by.”

The California native has tasted the NHL before, filling in admirably — 6-4-3 with a .908 save percentage — on an injury-plagued Hawks team at the end of the 2018-19 season.

The Hawks gave him a three-year contract extension after that season, making him believe he’d won the backup job, only to bring in Robin Lehner and cast Delia back to a distant third on the depth chart.

“When they signed Robin, I was kind of cutting my teeth because I thought I earned the position,” Delia said. “But then, coming full circle, I was like, ‘You can’t try to earn a position as a backup goalie. You try to earn the starting position.’ ”

With the window to do that as open as it’ll ever be, Delia can turn his philosophical approach into his greatest sales pitch.

He’s a smart, thoughtful guy. And his intelligence gives him a huge advantage as a goaltender. Consider this explanation of his offseason training as proof:

“You have to take your game to the outer bounds and see how you really do in situations where you’re uncomfortable. And then from those situations, you can find growth and you can simplify things. For me, it’s continuing to . . . [keep] things simple but also relying on facets of my game that make me good, like my ability to stay calm under pressure or just my skating ability, my post work, my edges.”

Brian Daccord is a Massachusetts-based goalie coach, now affiliated with the Coyotes, who has trained Delia since his years at Merrimack College. He has seen Delia’s hockey intelligence firsthand.

“He thinks way beyond what a lot of guys will normally do,” Daccord said. “Are you going to bring the mental energy necessary to training and to practice? That’s what separates a lot of guys. And that’s why someone like him who may have equal athletic abilities may not be where [Delia] is at, because Collin has that extra level of focus.”

Delia recently revisited Daccord’s company, Stop It Goaltending, to work on his rebound control. Making a save is obviously most important in any situation, but controlling where the puck goes afterward is the type of advanced skill Delia’s analytical mind strives to master.

“A goaltender that has such good awareness, good goalie IQ, that can he read a play, can feel a situation — he can put pucks in places where his teammates can get it,” Daccord said.

Explained Delia: “For instance, if there’s an odd-man rush — say it’s a 3-on-2 — and we have a late backchecker. If, at the last second, I can identify the shot angle, and I can locate my backchecker and put that rebound in an area where he can recover it and then go the other way, that’s the next echelon of rebound control.”

Delia, with Lammers’ encouragement, started Pilates classes in Chicago this fall.

His twice-weekly private lessons at Frog Temple Studio in Logan Square are designed to strengthen the smaller, overlooked muscle groups in his core and supplement his more mainstream-style workouts with Hawks trainer Paul Goodman.

“[Pilates is] fun and new and challenging, but it also builds upon a foundation that we, as hockey players, work years and years to create,” Delia said. “So much of what [goalies] do stems from having a strong and mobile core and being able to change directions quickly and be safe in vulnerable positions.”

With his refreshed mental state, refined rebound control and strengthened core, Delia may find his stars aligning at the perfect time.

Although another training camp battle against Subban and Kevin Lankinen lies between him and the outright starting role, Delia likely enters the winter as the odds-on favorite to win it.

“Without a doubt, I think I can earn that job,” he said. “There’s no complacency when it comes to training camp. Every single day you step on the ice, you’re proving how much better you are than the other two guys. We all have to have that mindset.”