Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko smiled when he answered.
“Oh yeah, it’s an honour to be in that discussion,” Demko said, when asked about being brought up in Vezina Trophy conversations as the best goalie in the NHL. “But we haven’t even played half the games yet, so I think we can just cool it on that a little bit.”
He’s as focused as he is confident.
“We’ve got a lot more games to play and a lot more work to do, we’re trying to get in the playoffs here,” Demko added. “We’ve still got some ground to make up and we’ve set ourselves up to do that.”
The Vancouver Canucks number-one netminder was named the NHL’s number-3 star for the month of December. He went 7-1-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and one shutout, a 4-0 victory in head coach Bruce Boudreau’s Vancouver debut back on December 6th.
“I’m not taking anything away from Vancouver but when I was in Anaheim it was the same thing,” Boudreau said, “People back east, they don’t know about these guys. They just don’t know, they go to sleep before they (we) play, they don’t read about them or hear about them.”
There’s no doubt a majority of the NHL viewing public, and award voters, reside back east.
In this case, Demko’s performance was impossible to ignore.
“As teammates I think we always look at him as being right at the top of the league in terms of being one of the best goaltenders around,” Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers said. “It seems like if I had to pick a moment where, if you want to call it a breakthrough moment or whatever, you look back at the bubble and what he did then … and he’s just carried that through and been unbelievable for us the last two years. Obviously, third star of the month, very deserving of it, it’s a reflection of how well he’s played and we’re all really happy for him.”
It’s ironic that Myers brought up the “bubble” performance, because Demko is sort of tired of hearing about it. In 2020 he stepped in for Canucks number-one goalie Jacob Markstrom for Game-5 of the second round against the Vegas Golden Knights with his team down 3-games-to-1 and practically stole the series. He won games five and six and gave up just one goal in the Game-7 loss. His goals against for the brief sample was an unheard of 0.64 with a ridiculous .985 save percentage. He allowed just two goals on 130 shots over the three games, registering a shut-out in Game-6.
Demko is happier with the larger sample size of this season, where he carries a 2.55 GAA and a .920 save percentage despite a couple of lopsided Vancouver Canucks losses in November.
“Well, I’ve done it for more than three games, so I think that’s the thing I’ve been working on the most this year, making sure that consistency is there. The bubble was what it was and it was a cool experience but I’m a little sick of people talking about the “bubble-Demko” thing,” he said with a smile. “It was awesome but it was just three games and I knew I had a lot more to prove, and last year I felt I flirted with it a little bit, and this year I really wanted to come in and nail down that consistency and prove I could do it on a nightly basis.”
Similar to what Boudreau has been preaching since arriving, Demko believes in positive thinking, calmness, and confidence being the key.
“There’s a ton of guys that aren’t in this league that are really good goaltenders, good players, so it’s gotta be something else that separates guys, and think the mental side of things is the thing that does that,” Demko said. “It think it’s something where there’s no ceiling on the mental capacity, you can always just keep building in that regard.”
“Ice water in the veins” is another way to describe it, which also describes a goaltender Demko is compared to, an Anaheim Duck who also grew up in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
“There’s a lot of John Gibson in him,” Boudreau said. “I’ve been lucky to really have a lot of good young goalies, but right at the beginning. Like I’ve had (Brayden) Holtby at the beginning when he would battle everybody, and (Semyon) Varlamov and he’d battle everybody, and at the end even (Olie) Kolzig was still a battler, but Thatcher reminds me a lot of John Gibson when John first started as well. All great goalies that I’ve been lucky enough to be with and he’s another one.”
Demko now has the benefit of battling and developing with a team that seems to have a chance to win every night. Check that: has practically won every night since early December, although improved team play means he’s a little less busy at times.
“It’s a little easier to stay hot, your sweat keeps coming when you’re moving and staying warm and things like that,” Demko said, “but I can’t complain, I’d rather the guys spend time in the other zone and create scoring chances.”
The Vancouver Canucks ‘team first’ mentality should always prevail in the sport of hockey. Always looking to improve isn’t a bad trait either.
“Still think I can sharpen some things up big-picture wise, and I’m only 26 and still have a lot of years to continue to grow and develop my game,” Demko concluded.