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San Diego native Demko makes ‘pretty crazy’ NHL debut, earns win between the pipes

 

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After a bunch of long rides, Thatcher Demko enjoyed a wild one in his NHL debut.

Recalled by the Vancouver Canucks on March 30 while driving to a game for their American Hockey League affiliate in Utica, N.Y., Demko quickly made a U-turn, packed and caught a flight to the West Coast.

So turn around he did before making a one-hour drive to Syracuse for a late afternoon flight. After his connection in Toronto, he arrived at his hotel in Vancouver at 2:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. Eastern time).

As fate would have it, the Canucks were playing a rare 1 p.m. Saturday game. That was all well and good for the San Diego native, however.

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“(Canucks coach) Travis (Green) called to let me know,” Demko said. “It was a quick turnaround, but I got everything together and remarkably, all of my family made it up to Vancouver for the game. I was lucky enough to share that with them.”

It was the fifth time in two seasons of pro hockey, and fourth time this season alone, that the former San Diego Jr. Gull had made the cross-country flight on a recall. This one, obviously, was different because Green asked him if he’d like the start.

“Easiest question I’ve answered,” said Demko, who had five hours of sleep before the game on top of a three-hour time change.

Running on adrenaline, Demko helped the Canucks to a 5-4 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I remember having fun with it, and obviously there were some nerves, but at the same time, I was really enjoying a taste of the league,” he said.

Demko kept the Canucks in the game when he robbed Columbus’ Cam Atkinson on a 2-on-1 with the Blue Jackets up 1-0 in the second period, and he shook off Columbus’ late three-goal rally to send the game into overtime.

“That game was pretty crazy,” he recalled. “But getting the win in my first NHL start was amazing.”

The NHL start – and win – were further confirmation of the progress Demko continues to make.

A 1995 birth year, he was a second-round pick of the Canucks (36th overall in 2014). He grew up playing in San Diego, and after a brief stop with the L.A. Jr. Kings, jumped to Omaha of the USHL just after turning 16. He did well enough there he made U.S. National Team Development Program as a U18 in 2012-13.

He represented Team USA at U17, U18 and the World Junior Championships over the next three seasons. He played three seasons at Boston College, helping the Eagles reach the Frozen Four in 2016.

That season he also was selected the Mike Richter Award winner as the top NCAA goaltender (after a 27-8-4 record with a career-best 1.88 GAA and .935 save percentage), was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as its top player and was named Hockey East’s Player of the Year.

He signed with the Canucks after his junior season and has seen his numbers improve from 22-17-1, 2.68 and .907 to 25-13-4, 2.44 and .922 in his two pro seasons. The arrow clearly is pointing up.

“I was able to build on some things this season,” Demko said. “At the end of my first year of pro I played better and I carried some of that momentum in.

“It’s really a matter of development and taking steps every time you can, trying to get better every day.”

He won’t make any predictions about the future, but it’s not hard to imagine him being stationed on the West Coast again sooner than later.

“I’ve got to put in the work and see where I’m at – it’s as simple as that,” he said.

Photo/Lindsay A. Mogle/Utica Comets

— Chris Bayee

(June 13, 2018)