Thatcher Demko interview: on turning pro, his 'bromance' with Jared McCann and Jim Benning's 'class'

Carol Schram
May 13 2016 09:43AM

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Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – The 2015-16 season has been a busy one for Canucks prospect Thatcher Demko. After double hip surgery during the 2015 offseason, Demko excelled in his junior year at Boston College with a 27-8-4 record. He broke Cory Schneider’s school record with 10 shutouts and backstopped the Eagles to the semifinal of the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, Fla..

After the tournament wrapped up in May, Demko headed back to school, signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks and jetted to Russia as the third goalie for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship.

We caught up with Demko in St. Petersburg before Friday’s U.S-France matchup.

CanucksArmy: First off, tell me about your hip surgery last year.

Thatcher Demko: It was a big step for me—I'd been playing the last four seasons with those torn labrums. I was in quite a bit of pain and just restriction mobility-wise, but once I got the surgery done, I felt better almost immediately.

It wasn't an easy recovery. It was still four months until I was back on the ice so it was a little bit of a grind in that period. Once the season started going and I got back into shape and all that stuff, I felt awesome.

Before I got the surgery, I was at zero degrees internal rotation and now I'm at, like, 20. It enables me to move from different certain positions, so I can be lower to the ice and still be explosive and get my butterfly a little bit wider and get into more flexible positions.

CA: How was your college hockey experience, going to this year’s Frozen Four?

Demko: It obviously didn't end like we all wanted it to. I was bummed; I was pretty upset with that. I thought we had the team to do it. We were just such a close group, it didn't feel like the year was ready to be over.

It was good, you know, we had some adversity there. We dropped the semi-final Hockey East game, so we were a little upset with that, but once we got to Worcester for the regional, we felt confident and we were able to beat two really good teams there and make our way to Tampa.

CA: After the tournament was over, you took some time before signing your first NHL contract with the Canucks. What was your thinking?

Demko: I just wanted to make sure I gave it the time that it needed. Some of the guys make impulse decisions and end up regretting (them).

I just wanted to make sure that I let the loss digest from Tampa. Right after the game i was like, screw this, I'm coming back to school. I don't want to feel like this ever again, I wanted to win a national championship.

But as time went on, I felt like it was the right decision. The stars kind of lined up for me there. I'm really excited and I’m really happy that I made the decision to be a Canuck now.

CA:Why didn’t you meet with Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning in Tampa after you were eliminated from the Frozen Four?

Demko

: That was his call. I didn't even know that my parents met with him until after the fact. I respect the way that Jim handled things.

He knows that I’m a sore loser—he wanted to give me some space. If he got on me right away, I might not have been too happy. He wasn't sure, so he talked to my parents to make sure that they knew that (the Canucks) were interested in getting a contract done. He called me a few days later after I was a little cooled down from the loss.

I thought he handled it with a lot of class, and I appreciated that from him.

CA:How are things going with school? Are you finished now for the year?

No, unfortunately. Counting down the days.

Most of my teachers were good with me coming out here (to Russia). The timing wasn't very good academically, but I took a couple of Incomplete classes so when I get back to school I'll have to take the finals and finish those off.

I'm actually taking a couple of classes during the summer because I do want to get my degree from Boston College. That's something I’ll have a lot of pride in once that gets finished. I’m just going back to school for a few more weeks after this tournament.

CA: What’s your major?

Demko: Applied psychology and human development with a philosophy minor.

CA: Have you found that your coursework has given you any particular insights in your hockey career?

Demko

: I'm actually taking a sports psychology course this summer to try to tie the sports side of everything into what I've learned already in the psych department. It's been cool just to see how people operate—not necessarily sports-specific, but obviously the basic nature of humans kind of plays into the way that sports take place. So it's been cool to learn how that works and then I’m going to take that sports psych class to try to tie it all together.

After the World Championship wraps up on May 22, Demko will head back to Boston to resume his studies, then travel to Vancouver on July 1 for the Canucks’ annual summer development camp.

Demko: I talked to Trevor Linden before this tournament. He said, go focus on the tournament and when we get back, we'll call you and let you know what we think it would be beneficial for you to do this summer. I'll have those discussions with them when I get back.

CA: I understand that you and Jared McCann became good friends when you met at your first development camp back in 2014.

Demko: Yeah—it’s a bromance.

CA: Have you seen him since then?

Demko: When (the Canucks) came to Boston this year I went out and had dinner with him, went back to his hotel, saw Virtanen and a couple of other guys. That first year, Canner and I kind of took off. He actually came and visited me in San Diego after the development camp so we've remained good friends.

We've talked about maybe hooking up again this summer after development camp and hanging out again. It's gonna be good, going into training camp, it'll be good to have a familiar face there.

CA: What are you expecting for your first pro season? Spending the year in Utica with the Comets?

I'd assume so. Obviously, being a young guy, I'm still competitive. I want to go into training camp and impress everyone. I want to put my best foot forward and try my best to make the team. Obviously, I don't expect them to put me up with the big guys at first but being down in the minors, it's part of the process; it's something you've gotta be patient with.

Sometimes when you rush you end up hurting yourself, so I want to make sure that I get some games in down there and make sure that I'm developing right.

CA: You have family ties to Vancouver, through your father?

Demko: He went to university there. His first couple of years? I know he didn't finish there, but he started there.

CA: What are your thoughts on the World Championship tournament so far?

Demko: I'm having a blast. I love representing my country. Even though i'm not playing, I still get to wear…(laughs)…the practice jersey.

Just being around the guys. This is kind of my first exposure to some pro guys and being around them. It's been really cool to see how the locker room dynamic works and the lifestyle of the pro guys compared to the college guys. It's such a big difference, so it's been really cool to get to know those guys and they've accepted me really well. It's been a blast so far.

CA: Do you think you’ll get into any game action?

Demko: I don’t know. I’m ready if they call on me.

If they want me in there, I'll do my best to get 'em a win. I’m just patiently waiting, that's all.

CA: What’s your impression of your U.S. team?

Demko: Sometimes with these tournaments, you throw a group of guys together and it's hard for guys to build that chemistry, but Matt Hendricks and (Nick) Foligno and (Connor) Murphy, our three captains have been unbelievable at making sure that the guys are always together, getting to know each other.

They're always joking around, making guys feel comfortable. I think there's that dynamic on the ice where you're starting to see guys play better together and play for each other. Guys are blocking shots, they're backchecking as hard as they can. It's just a lot of fun to be a part of a team like that, especially when you get together so quick.

It feels like we've been playing together a long time. Hopefully we can string some wins together and get down to the medal rounds.

CA: Auston Matthews is one of the higher-profile players in your dressing room.

Demko: Auston's a great kid. I was able to play with him at the World Juniors, two years ago. He's unbelievably talented. He deserves all the hype that he's getting, but at the same time, he's a good guy. He's fun to be around, he's a good teammate, so I think a lot of the guys are happy that he's here playing with us. He has that fun team dynamic that I was talking about earlier, and he's putting a lot of points up on the board too.

CA: What do you think of St. Petersburg?

Demko: I love it. I heard a bunch of people saying it's a beautiful city and they weren't wrong at all.

There's so much stuff going on. They had Victory Day the other day (on Monday, May 9). I read up some history about that. It's incredible to see a bunch of people out and walk around the city. It's been an awesome place to be a tourist for a few days here.

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Nation Network Prospect Profiles #40: Libor Hajek

Jeremy Davis
May 13 2016 08:00AM

Libor Hajek

Photo Source: Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Among the defencemen projected to be available in the second round is Czech born rearguard Libor Hájek. Hájek has just completed his first season in North America, playing for a rather dreadful Saskatoon Blades team.

Hájek is a defensive defenceman in the modern sense. That is, not a stay-at-home, clear the net type of defender, but one whose reputation is built almost entirely on transitioning the puck out of his own zone rather than in the generation of offence in the opposing zone.

Defencemen of this type are becoming increasingly valuable in the current NHL, where speed and transition are key. While he won't likely be your teams best blueliner, Hájek should be a dependable 2-3 defenceman on a good team.

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The Roundup

Nation World HQ
May 13 2016 05:00AM

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Leafs need to be careful using LTIR for Cap space, Canucks player awaits fathers trial for alleged murder conspiracy, Flames coaching carousel and missing out on an additional first round pick, no Hamonic to Edmonton or anywhere else, Phil Kessel's Cup run is karma for doubters, Pierre McGuire, Alex Ovechkin, the NHL's Top fighters and more in this week's Nation Roundup brought to you by DraftKings.

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7 Canucks players making their mark at the World Championships

Carol Schram
May 12 2016 02:00PM

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – After a disappointing early end to their 2015-16 NHL season, seven members of the Vancouver Canucks got the call from their respective national teams to play for their countries at this year’s World Championship.

As the tournament’s preliminary round approaches its midpoint, here’s a rundown of how the three Canucks players in St. Petersburg and four Vancouver players in Moscow have fared.

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Canucks Army Year in Review: Brendan Gaunce

Ryan Biech
May 12 2016 01:00PM

The Canucks 2012 first round pick Brendan Gaunce made some strides this season, appearing in first NHL game and later scoring his first NHL goal. It wasn't pretty, but they all count!

Although Gaunce only appeared in 20 NHL games and scored one goal in a fairly limited role, where he made those aforementioned strides was for Utica in the AHL. Setting new career highs in goals, assists and points in 46 games for the Comets. Last season he scored 11 goals in 74 games in the AHL, this year he had 17 goals in 46 games.

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