Beach time with his buddies in San Diego this summer was put on the backburner for Vancouver Canucks top prospect Thatcher Demko.
He was too busy taking classes at Boston College and training for his second season as a professional goalie. Demko is about five classes away from completing his degree in Applied Psych and Human Development as his major, with philosophy as a minor. The highlight of Demko’s summer was attending his good friends wedding.
The winner of the Mike Richter Award for the player voted most outstanding goaltender in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 hockey in 2015-16 is back in Penticton for his second Young Stars Classic. The 21-year-old enjoys being around his future teammates.
“We are all kind of up and coming. It’s good to see some of the new talent that was drafted this year (Kole Lind, 33rd overall, Jonah Gadjovich, 55th overall, Michael DiPietro, 64th overall and Matt Brassard, 188th overall) come in and see what they can do,” said Demko. “It’s going to be a really fun environment. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and getting things going.”
Demko remembers how the fans came out to watch. As of Thursday afternooon, 14,400 tickets had been sold. The 2014 second round pick 36th overall said the Penticton tournament is a way to get back into game shape and see game situations before training camp. The tournament helped him get the feel for the game as well as the pace. Demko comes in completing his first season in the American Hockey League with the Utica Comets. He put up a 22-17-1 record with a .907 save percentage and felt it was a good year after going through an adjustment period making the jump from college hockey, which he said came with “some growing pains.”
“I thought as the year went on I was able to make some adjustments and learn from some of the mistakes that I was making early on,” he said. “I definitely think I got a lot better as the year went on.”
Comets GM and director of player development for the Canucks, Ryan Johnson said Demko had an outstanding year and handled the adversity in the AHL well. Johnson saw Demko mature, especially with his approach because of injuries in Vancouver that forced the callup of his netminding partner Richard Bachman.
“He was handed the ball in a very important time of the season for the team in Utica,” said Johnson. “He did extremely well with it. He won 10 of 11 at one point. His growth as a player and a person was outstanding.
“His progression through the entire year is going to be exciting to watch,” continued Johnson, who played 701 NHL games in his career, including two seasons (2008 to 10) with the Canucks. “The AHL can very much eat up young players as is, never mind goaltenders when they first step into it. The way he handled himself was with poise, a real professional approach. He will only take another step.”
While in Penticton, Demko wants to play his best and impress Canucks management. With his rookie season behind him, Demko hopes the younger guys look up to him and ask questions about the tournament or training camp. Developing into a leader is something he looks forward to.
When asked how close he is to reaching the NHL, Demko understands it is a process with young goalie and isn’t unrealistic about that. Right now Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nillson are penciled in as the Canucks tandem this season.
“I’m just trying to go in with the mindset that I can compete with those guys,” he said, adding his first pro season helped him become more comfortable and said you try not to be intimidated by older players. “I think now my mindset is a lot different. I know I can hang with those guys. Hopefully I will be able to show that at camp.”