Thatcher Demko is currently in the middle of learning what professional hockey is all about in his first season with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League, but once the offseason rolls around, he’ll be returning to his old stomping grounds.
The San Diego, California native is a Human Psychology major at Boston College where he spent the previous three seasons with the Eagles. Despite turning pro, Demko plans on completing his degree, which includes a Philosophy minor.
“I promised my parents I would (finish) so I'm going to try to look into it again this summer, try to see if I can go back, chip away at it,” said Demko. “I'm only six classes away (from graduating).”
Originally a 2014 second-round pick (36th overall) of the Vancouver Canucks, Demko is now working full-time with new goaltending coach Dan Cloutier. Cloutier, a veteran of 351 NHL games, was promoted from goaltending consultant working primarily with the club’s prospects, to goaltending coach last June.
Demko and Cloutier, who is based in Vancouver, communicate often via telephone, and the game plan for the first-year pro includes an adjustment in playing style.
“Just try to be a bit more simple, play in the crease a little bit more, let the play come to me instead of attacking a lot,” Demko said. “I feel like I've been getting a lot better at it. Got to be patient with it, and just keep working on it everyday.”
The 6-foot-4, 194-pound goaltender had a memorable 2015/16 season at Boston College where he posted a 27-8-4 record to go along with a 1.88 G.A.A. and a 93.5 save percentage in 39 regular season appearances.
For his solid junior season, Demko was named the 2016 Co-Player of the Year by the Hockey East Association, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and the recipient of the Mike Richter Award as the most outstanding goaltender in NCAA Division I men’s hockey during the regular season.
Despite the successes at the college level, Utica Comets coach Travis Green knows the organization has to take a patient approach with Demko as he learns the pro game.
“It's a different jump for goalies,” said Green. “I think it'll be a bit of a waiting game, see how he does. Our goalie coaches have worked hard with him. Big kid, he's got a good attitude, works hard and the rest will just fall in to place with time. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.”
Demko’s first games at the AHL level have been nothing to write home about – two wins in six games to go along with a 3.48 G.A.A. and an 87.6 save percentage.
As Demko begins his pro career in the Canucks organization, he finds himself following the footsteps of another Boston College alumnus in Cory Schneider. Schneider, now in his fourth season with the New Jersey Devils, was originally a first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks and spent three seasons with the Eagles before turning pro.
“He's one of the better goalies in the NHL now, he was one of the best goalies at Boston College ever,” said Demko. “I run into him every now and then during the summers at Boston College, he comes and works out there.
“He's a guy that you sorta try to follow his path a little bit. He's had quite a bit of success, so it's good to see.”
Similar to Schneider, Demko also had an opportunity to represent Team USA internationally.
At the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, Demko made four appearances going 1-1-1 while posting a 93.9 save percentage and a 1.74 G.A.A. as the Americans finished in fifth place. In spite of the finish, the 20-year-old understands the long-term impact of the international experience.
“It's just a lot of fun. You never know when you're going to be able to represent your country again,” he said. “Anytime I get the opportunity, I want to take advantage of it. I'm a proud American. I love watching the American side of hockey grow and just get better each year guys like (Auston) Matthews, (Jack) Eichel, (Dylan) Larkin - some of the younger guys that are proving America is growing.
“I think it helps you to get experience on big stages and those are important games so it's good for you.”
He may be a pro now, but his experiences at both Boston College and with Team USA are ones Demko will continue to rely on as he looks to take the next step in his hockey career.