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

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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.

  • Happy to have Demko in our pipeline of prospects. He sounds like a together young man. Our future in goal appears to be in good hands.

    I still find it a little odd, that Jim Benning didn’t meet with Thatcher in person. Why did Jim not extend his stay, or make a second trip? It all worked out for the best, but I would have done it differently. Jim is the GM, I am not. Welcome to Vancity Thatcher.

    • I honestly don’t understand the confusion. In Demko’s own words we have him saying how much he appreciated Benning not being pushy and having enough sense to know that an athlete whose team has just been eliminated from a national championship might need a little bit of time before making any decisions. So why STILL second guessing Benning, even though we got the decision we wanted and the athlete himself says that he appreciates the process?

      The only people who seem to have become anxious during the “eternity” that it took Demko to sign seem to be those who are the most removed from the decision and have taken to speculating about what it all meant. It meant nothing. A college athlete signed about two weeks after his season ended, after giving it due thought and considering his options. Had he made any other pronouncements or entered into the kind of negotiations so many seemed desperate to hear about he would have endangered his eligibility. People really need to stop stressing about nothing.

      Demko sounds like a really intelligent and interesting young man. Psych, human development and a minor in philosophy is a nice break from the business degrees that most NCAA hockey players tend to go for.