TAMPA, Fla. — Thatcher Demko has a message for kids who grow up playing hockey, as he did: “You can do whatever you want to do as long as you put your mind to it.”
The Boston College junior and recipient of the third annual Mike Richter Award for Division I men’s college hockey’s most outstanding goaltender grew up in San Diego, Calif., a long way away from Massachusetts and other areas where some kids are raised on pond hockey.
2016 Frozen Four
Follow all of USCHO's coverage at Frozen Four Central.
Demko is no stranger to perseverance. Before the 2015-16 season, Demko underwent surgery to repair tears to his acetabular labrums, the rings of cartilage surrounding the hip sockets. For years, Demko had been playing with pain, and he knew that surgery was the only solution.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Demko. “I wasn’t on the ice for four months there. I wasn’t too sure how the beginning of the season was going to go, but I made sure I was ready.”
As it turns out, Demko was more than ready. This season, Demko posted 10 shutouts, tying him with Cornell’s David McKee (2004-05) and Michigan State’s Ryan Miller (2000-01) for the second most single-season shutouts in college hockey history, two shy of what Greg Gardner did for Niagara in 1999-2000.
Demko also posted a record of 27-8-4 in 2015-16 with a .935 save percentage and 1.88 GAA in 2015-16, backstopping BC to an NCAA-leading 25th Frozen Four appearance.
In three seasons with the Eagles, Demko’s cumulative save percentage is .928 with a three-year GAA of 2.08. Demko was also named to this year’s Hobey Hat Trick.
“We’re very excited that his play has been so good, at the level that he can win a Mike Richter Award,” said BC coach Jerry York. “He’s a terrific kid. He’s had three really good years with us, but this has been by far his best year.”
Connor Hellebuyck (UMass-Lowell) was the first recipient of the Mike Richter Award in 2014, followed last year by Zane McIntyre (North Dakota). Both are currently playing in the AHL.
“It’s a relatively new award, but the two other goalies who have won it are obviously amazing goalies,” said Demko. “For a guy like Mike Richter to present it to me, it’s really special to me. I’m just really proud of my team this year. They’ve played a huge role in this. Obviously, I can’t do it by myself. They deserve a piece of it. It’s definitely exciting.”
Richter, who played for Wisconsin (1985-87) and a total of 15 years with the NHL’s New York Rangers (1988-2003), said that he’s hoping that his namesake award will help to bring recognition to college goaltenders, who he said are getting better and better.
“Right now, there’s so much consistency across the teams,” Richter said. “Look at North Dakota losing Zane McIntyre last year and coming right back with [Cam] Johnson this year. There’s more where they came from.
“The Hobey Baker is such a difficult award to win, and you don’t want to separate out positions too much, but goaltending is obviously a unique position. It’s a game within the game.”
The first two recipients of the Mike Richter Award opted to forgo their remaining college eligibility in favor of professional careers. Now that his season has ended one game short of a chance to play for the national championship, Demko, a second round pick (No. 36 overall) of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft, is considering his own future.
“I’m not in the right frame of mind to make any big decisions,” said Demko. “All I can say is that I love Boston College and we’ll see how the next couple of weeks play out.”