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Good news, Canucks fans: Thatcher Demko traditionally bounces back well from injuries

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Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
4 months ago
Harnarayan Singh was saying something about Casey DeSmith coming into the game, but it could barely be heard above the collective groans around the province.
Thatcher Demko had been injured, and few headlines could impact the 2023/24 Vancouver Canucks harder than that one.
The injury occurred sometime during Saturday’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. Demko was pulled from the game after 26:40 of play-time, having allowed no goals against. DeSmith came in, and Demko did not return.
The good news is that Demko’s injury, which reportedly involved his knee, was deemed nothing too serious by head coach Rick Tocchet. As of now, it’s set to keep him out of the lineup for just two or three weeks.
The bad news is that those weeks will come at a crucial time for the Canucks. There are just five weeks left on the regular season as of this writing, and while Vancouver has carved out a sizeable lead for themselves in the Pacific Division standings, that’s still the stretch-run. Maintaining momentum will be as much a concern that close to the postseason as anything else.
But Demko will return sometime before the regular season concludes. And this is where the great news comes in, because Demko has a clear-cut history of traditionally bouncing back very well from injury-related absences.
In fact, he’s been doing it since before turning pro.
Demko’s first major brush with the IR came in April of 2015, as he went under the knife to repair a hip issue that he’d been playing through for four straight seasons. At the time, Demko had just wrapped up his sophomore season at Boston College.
He returned in 2015/16 to go 27-8-4 with a 1.88 GAA and a .935 save percentage, earning a Hobey Baker nomination in his last year of NCAA action.
All the way in active recovery for the surgery.
Then Demko turned pro, joining the Utica Comets for the 2016/17 campaign. He stayed fairly healthy for his first two professional seasons, earning his first NHL game with the Canucks in 2017/18. By the 2018/19 season, he was ready to join the Canucks as backup…until an early October concussion struck.
That injury would keep Demko out of the lineup for 23 games, and earn him a reassignment to Utica to regain his health for 16 games thereafter, before being recalled again in January of 2019.
In those 16 AHL games, Demko’s last in that league, he went 8-6-0 with a 2.58 GAA and .911 save percentage. But it’s what he did after returning to Vancouver in January that really stood out.
His first game back was an impressive 36-save win against the Buffalo Sabres. Then disaster immediately struck again, this time via a knee injury game back that would keep Demko out of the lineup for another nine games.
This time, there would be not Utica reassignment for conditioning or any other purpose. Demko returned directly to the Vancouver lineup in late February.
He let in five goals that first game back. But from there on out, he rebounded well enough to begin genuinely earning his starts again.
All told, Demko went on a nine-game intermittent run to close out 2018/19, going 4-3-1 with a 2.81 GAA and a .913 save percentage. They’re roughly the exact same numbers that starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom was putting up at the time, and any worries about the two injuries in quick succession having lingering effects on Demko were quickly quieted.
Now firmly ensconced as Markstrom’s backup, Demko started the 2019/20 season quite strongly, but then suffered another concussion in mid-December. This time around, he was only out of the lineup for six games.
Which was perfect timing, because not long after Demko returned, Markstrom went down with a knee injury that wound up keeping him out for the final month of what turned out to be a truncated season.
Demko took the starter’s reins with aplomb. Immediately upon his return, he went on a 4-2-1 run to put the Canucks back into the playoff picture, and wound up going 16-13-3 from there on out with a .907 save percentage and a 2.99 GAA.
Lots happened thereafter. Bubble Demko was a thing. Markstrom left as a UFA. Demko became the undisputed starter. He signed a five-year extension. He got COVID, twice. He recovered. He missed one game at the tail-end of the 2020/21 season, and another three at the very end of 2021/22 before undergoing a minor offseason surgery.
It should be noted here that Demko did not bounce back particularly well from this surgery. He opened the 2022/23 season by going 3-10-2 with a 3.93 GAA and an .883 save percentage. Questions were raised, and like the rest of the team at the time, Demko looked dreadful.
When it was announced that he’d suffered a major groin injury in early December of 2022, it was almost treated as a mercy.
Some mercy. Demko would up missing the next 35 games, not returning until late February. But it’s what he did at that point that we’re really here to talk about today.
Demko put up 34, 34, and 36 saves in his first three games back. He went on an 11-6-5 run to close out the season with a .909 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA to push the newly-minted Rick Tocchet Canucks closer to a playoff spot than they had any reasonable right to be.
The questions died away. Demko was back in the starter’s seat to stay, and he’s been there ever since.
That’s probably why, this time around, everyone is worrying about Demko’s absence, but few are all that worried about what comes after. There are those, in fact, who were quite eager and profuse about their hopes that Demko would get some rest time down the stretch-run. Well, now he gets it. And if his personal history is any indication, when he returns, he’ll do so without missing a beat.
And with perfect timing.

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