Thatcher Demko has already won a Beanpot Championship this season, but he is far from done. The Boston College netminder enters the playoff season as the top-ranked North American goaltender in Central Scouting's midterm rankings and is ready to impress.
Although the No. 1 Eagles were upset by No. 8 Notre Dame in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, Demko and the Eagles will look to bounce back in the NCAA Tournament.
Demko has been one of the best goalies in college hockey and has posted a 14-3-3 record, a 2.13 goals-against average, and a .921 save percentage along with two shutouts.
“Thatcher has matured a lot, he has a great attitude and wants to learn,” Boston College assistant coach Mike Ayers said. “He is always trying to learn, which is something you don’t always see. I’ve been very happy with his play so far. He and I know that he can be better. However, him being the youngest kid in college hockey and doing what he has done is pretty special.”
Despite the pressure of draft implications, Demko has done nothing but perform. Only focusing on playing this season has helped that a lot.
“There has been (no pressure) whatsoever,” Ayers added. “His makeup definitely helps and we keep him grounded. He has done well handling it all.”
Ayers and Demko have been together for multiple years and it has more than helped the freshman netminder. Ayers coached the San Diego, CA native last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, and with Boston College this season.
“Having coach Ayers has been huge because he’s been a familiar face,” Demko said. “We had some similarities from last year, and we picked up where we left off. He knows how I play, how to push me and make me better.”
Being able to practice and prepare for every game against the line of Kevin Hayes, Bill Arnold, and Johnny Gaudreau has brought Demko a long way this season. Gaudreau is the Hobey Baker favorite and hands-down the best player in college hockey. Practice has been a battle this season. Demko says he is winning that battle, but if you asked Gaudreau he might have a different answer.
“We have a little rivalry going in practice,” Demko said. “If they score they chirp me, but if I stop them I chirp them right back. There’s a competitive edge, and it is unbelievable practicing with them. They’re top-notch guys and it makes me better everyday.”
Playing with the U.S. NTDP prepared Demko well for the college game since playing for that team acquainted Demko with the caliber of hockey played at the college hockey level. The 6'4” goaltender has even improved on his numbers from a year ago, when he posted a 15-3 record, a 2.21 goals-against, a .903 save percentage, and one shutout.
“The U.S. NTDP helped me come in this season already having experience,” he said. “I’ve played in a couple of barns that I played in before, and the training there really prepares you for the late season push.”
Although he didn’t play at the 2014 World Junior Championship, Demko had the experience of riding shotgun as the third goalie for Team USA. Next year will be a big test, however, with Jon Gillies no loner eligible for the tournament. Demko will aim for the starting role next winter with the U.S. squad.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Demko said. “(Starting is) in the future. I’m looking forward to the summer camp and proving to the coaches that I can play at that level.”
How Demko ended up at Boston College is a bit interesting, as he had no idea what college hockey even was up until he was about 12 years old. He caught a Colorado College game with his dad and instantly picked up an interest. His father, who went to college in British Columbia, brought hockey into their Southern California home.
“I didn’t really know what college hockey was, but when I was 12 we watched the Colorado College Tigers play,” Demko said. “That was the first exposure I really had to college hockey. It was interesting to come out here and see what a big deal college hockey is.”
A Beanpot title has already highlighted Demko’s season so far. Could a NCAA National Championship be next? His play down the stretch could dictate both BC's fate this season and where Demko will be drafted in this summer's NHL Draft.
Follow Rich Murray on Twitter via @Richie_Murray