LAKE PLACID, USA – How to become a great goalie with few hockey opportunities in your area and no goalie coach around? Thatcher Demko helped himself with the internet and videos.
These days you can use the internet for just about anything. Buying groceries, sending flowers and sharing photos with family on the other side of the world are all just a point and click away.
And when you grow up in a city that isn’t actually a hockey hot bed, you use one net to make another one your second home.
“Resources were kind of limited so you got to work with what you got,” Thatcher Demko says about his hometown of San Diego, California. “There’s not a lot of goalie coaches out there. You have to rely on outside sources, so my dad and I were always watching YouTube videos, reading goalie articles and getting different outlooks on the game. I kind of learned to play that way.”
So while kids in Canada and the colder parts of the United States would roll their goalie bags to the neighbourhood rink, Demko would immerse himself in the instructional videos on his desktop and the DVDs his dad, Brenton, brought home.
”I started watching videos of professional goalies a little bit later because I think growing up I wasn’t mature enough to understand the professional side of the game quite yet,” he says.
“I think it’s great for hockey to have kids in different areas of the world learning different ways (to play the game) now,” says Mike Ayers, an assistant coach for both the U.S. National Junior Team and Boston College, where his starting goalie is now a sophomore.
Demko always knew he wanted to be a goalie. His youth coaches wanted to rotate the position, but Demko would volunteer every time.
“I remember I always had my hand raised and my dad was always telling me, hey it isn’t your turn this week. You got to let other people try,” he says. “So I was always kind of bummed out.”
By the time he was a teen, Demko knew he wanted a future in hockey. He also knew he needed to be with those who were as dedicated to the game as he was.
“I tried to move away pretty early just so I could get into more of a hockey environment,” he says. “When you’re in that environment you flourish a bit more.”
At 14 he called youth coaches across the country looking for a spot on their teams. No one phoned back.
Undeterred, he eventually found his way east, first to Omaha, Neb., and the United States Hockey League for the 2010/2011 season, and then to Ann Arbor, Mich., and USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Last year he was the third goalie on the American team that finished fifth at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship and played in the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Along the way, digital instruction gave way to more formal tutoring. But, funny enough, his coaches didn’t need to undo anything Demko had taught himself from the videos.
“I think my coaches just made me more fundamentally sound,” he says. “When you grow up without a goalie coach you don’t really get that fundamental side of things. Now I’m just trying to learn how to be a bit simpler.”
It also helps when after the pupil is done teaching himself, he still wants to learn.
”I just think he’s a student,” says Ayers. “He wants to get better. He’s constantly watching other kids and figuring out what he can do and what he can apply to his game to make himself a better goalie.”
Demko still watches videos, but now the Vancouver Canucks’ 2014 second-round draft pick is more likely to study his future NHL colleagues. “Now I can kind of see the game from their eyes and learn from them a bit more than I could when I was younger.”
But as far as starring in a web series of his own, that’ll have to wait.
“Maybe when I’m retired,” he says, laughing. “I haven’t learned enough yet.”