PHILADELPHIA – Thatcher Demko grew up in San Diego, which is not exactly a hotbed for the development of National Hockey League goalies. So he’d get to the rink at 5 a.m. just to scrounge up some ice time. He’d drive to Los Angeles with his family for a fresh sheet. And he’d head to Canada to compete in travel hockey tournaments where, like so many American players, he felt like a second-class hockey citizen at times.
But the older he grew, the more that dynamic changed. Now the U.S. is a perennial world junior contender, producing waves of young talent – like Thatcher Demko, for example.
“I was pretty young when this new wave of U.S. born players was coming up and I remember feeling really proud that we weren’t second behind Canada anymore. Now, to be a part of that, is pretty awesome,” said Demko.
“Apparently, it’s Canada’s game, and we’re always in the backseat to Canada. It’s a constant motivator as a U.S. guy.”
If that’s the motivation, then prepare to see a motivated Thatcher Demko in the NHL. He was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks at No. 36 overall on Saturday, as the first goalie taken in the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
“Hopefully I can appeal to the fans up there, make them love me instead of hate me,” he said.
Demko’s a Boston College kid, the youngest player in Div. 1 last season as a freshman. And the last BC goalie to play in Vancouver … well, it could have worked out better.
“They also drafted Cory Schneider, so a little BC connection there,” said Demko.
There’s another connection, too. His father, Brenton Demko, attended the University of British Columbia for a few years. Like any Hockey Dad, he kept a keen eye on where Thatcher might end up.
“In California, a lot of my friends aren’t into the hockey thing. So they’ll see these mock drafts and be like, ‘Oh, hey, Thatch to the Wild at 18!’ or whatever. And my standard answer is that there are only 30 lists that matter and they’re in the hands of the general managers that day,” Brenton Demko said.
Thatcher Demko says “I think goaltending chose me” when asked why he first went between the pipes. His father said he never wanted to leave them.
“In mites when he started, there was a policy that every week a different player would play goal. There was a kid who was deathly afraid to play goaltender, and Thatch has a good heart, so he would volunteer to play in place of that kid,” he said.
“It turned into him wanting to play every week.”
But that’s Thatcher Demko: Addicted to hockey, to the emotional ride experienced by every goalie. “I love the pressure I guess. In my eyes, no matter how the goal is scored, it’s always my fault,” he said.
To help cope, he plays NHL video games – “Way too much,” said Demko – but couldn’t care less about how well the goalie plays.
“I love scoring goals. In the offseason, I’ll throw on the players’ skates and play shinny with the guys,” he said.
A goalie, who passes the time by torturing goalies, both real and virtual.
“I’m weird, I’m weird,” he said. “You gotta embrace it though.”