Demko could potentially become the first California-born goaltender to be taken in the first round of the NHL Draft. Furthermore, he could also become the first Californian to be taken in the first round since 2010, when Beau Bennett was taken 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While Demko has quickly risen to become one of the most promising young players, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for him.
The San Diego, CA native actually had a rather humble start to his playing career in Southern California. As Demko explains, it all started with bouncing between two San Diego-based teams, one of which has gone through several incarnations and name changes.
“I was with the San Diego Ice Cubes, which was at SDIA (San Diego Ice Arena),” explained Demko. “Then I went up to play with the Junior Gulls for a year. After that, I went back to SDIA to play with the San Diego Rangers and then went back up again to play with the Junior Gulls. I also played for the SDIA Oilers for one year, as well.”
While with the San Diego Junior Gulls, Demko had the opportunity to play for two coaches that would have a profound impact on his development.
“I played for Dave Scowby in 2009-10,” said Demko. “He was a great coach. I know that he played at Princeton, so he knows what it’s like at that next level. It was kind of his first year and Dave was a coach that brought a pro mentality to the rink. That was really evident in the way we’d practice every day and some of the systems that he ran us through. I think that opened up my eyes to a different type of hockey.
“I also played for Larry Cahn for a few years,” Demko continued. “Larry has been probably my favorite coach that I’ve had so far. I’m still really close to him and we keep in touch all the time. He treated me like I was a pro and I don’t know if I was ready for that yet or not (at the time). It kind of forced me to evolve into having a different mind set at a young age. It was a huge, crucial step for me as far as teaching me and telling what it’s like at the next levels. I think one of the biggest things is that Larry kind of preached maturity to me. The year that I started with him, I was playing with some older kids. And the biggest thing he made sure of, even when I wasn’t playing was that I was still being mature and a team guy. He made sure that I was always working hard in practice and just controlling the things that I could control.”
Demko’s development under the tutelage of Scowby and Cahn quickly drew the attention of other teams as well as other leagues, most notably the Los Angeles Junior Kings and the USHL.
“I played with the Junior Kings for two months before I got called up to Omaha (USHL),” said Demko. “After that, I went on to play for the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor.”
The opportunity to play for the legendary Jerry York was the main reason that Demko chose to attend Boston College. Larry Cahn, like Jerry York, has developed numerous players over the years that have successfully gone on to the next level. But Demko also notes another similarity between the two coaches.
“I think the biggest thing about both of them is the love that they have for the players that they coach,” said Demko of the two coaches. “They do truly care about the development of their players and they both make sure that they do everything they can to get their players to that next level. You can definitely see that day to day in both Larry and Coach York. Their players just love coming to the rink everyday and playing for them.”
Being a young goaltender playing in the Frozen Four for the first time can be an overwhelming experience, and it doesn’t get any easier when you’re one of the top draft-eligible players. So how has Demko been able to handle all of the attention that has been thrust upon him?
“The great thing about Coach York is that he preaches a team-first mentality to us, so just being in that environment at BC has made it easy to not think about it,” explained Demko. “(Overinflated) minds or egos are never an issue. Everything is about the team. So with me and the other guys who are draft-eligible, the rest of the guys make sure that we’re focused on the team first and winning a national championship. I’m sure later down the road at the NHL Draft, I’ll have their full support. But right now, it’s all about the team and just winning a national championship together.”
Like many California-born players playing outside of the state, Demko returns each summer to help run summer camps and clinics. And it is something that he takes great pleasure in doing.
“Last year, I went up to the Kroc Center (San Diego) and was a goalie instructor for Jay Galea in one of his camps,” said Demko. “I’ll definitely be doing that even more this summer at the Kroc Center and I’ll probably be doing some camps at the (Escondido) Iceoplex as well. I’m also planning to go up to see Larry in Vacaville (Northern California), too. I’m planning to visit with him and maybe get on the ice a little bit with him, as well.”
While Demko is certainly blessed with a great skill set, what is even more impressive is his calm demeanor. Demko takes everything in stride and doesn’t seem to get too high or too low. It’s an attribute that began its development in San Diego and continues to serve him well at Boston College.
It is also an attribute that will endear him to many NHL teams leading up to the draft.
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