Demko (left) will be drafted in the same building where he and BC competed in the Frozen Four in April (AP)
Thatcher Demko, above all else, knows that goaltending isn't just about being solid, but stolid as well.
By definition, the latter means "not easily stirred or moved mentally." Cultivating that quality, along with honing his skills and technique, is why the San Diego-born goalie by way of the Boston College Eagles will likely be a first-round NHL pick on Friday in Philadelphia. This season, the 18-year-old Demko thrived as the youngest player at any position in NCAA Division I hockey, helped BC reach the Frozen Four before it lost out to Union College. Earlier in his development, Demko used to have an elaborate pregame routine that he broke up into 15-minute blocks, alternating stretching with thinking about the upcoming contest. Now NHL Central Scouting Service's top-ranked North American goalie prospect realizes it's very much about mind over matter.
"My pregame routine probably more mental," says Demko, who had a 2.24 averagev and .919 save percentage for BC this past season. "When you're younger you're more focused on the stretching aspect. As you go along, you realize how important the mental preparation is. It's become a lot of visualization, that sort of thing.
"This year in particular, my teammates gave me a lot of confidence but the mental part of the game is the biggest part of the game. It's something I'm always working on. You can't be a good goalie without a good mental game. I remember I saw a sports psychologist when I was younger, 12 or 13, and some of things he taught me I still carry with me in my game today ... My consistency improved this year and that kind of comes with the mental game. I learned how to fill that No. 1 role. I think my maturity in my game got stronger as the season went along."
The draft being held at Philly's Wells Fargo Center serves as a reminder to Demko about some unfinished business that lies ahead in his sophomore season. After all, BC's season-ending loss to Union occurred in the same building. The outcome is why Demko refuses to call his seemingly boffo frosh season a complete success.
"We didn't win the whole thing so you can't really consider it a success," says Demko, who is listed at 6-foot-3 3/4 and 192 pounds. "Our regular season was really good. It was a really good first season.
"Personally, I love to win. Coach [Jerry] York always calls it [the NCAA tournament] 'trophy season' and always expresses how important it is for our team. He was proud of us but obviously he likes to win.
"It'll be cool to go back there," Demko says of revisiting Philadelphia. "Really cool building, really cool city and it will be great to go back there with family.
Demko gravitated to the net from an early age. His father, Brenton Demko, grew up in the northeast U.S. in Columbus, Ohio and has Canadian parents. He took that interest in hockey with him when he settled in southern California.
"My dad's just a really big Kings fan so he always had the games on TV when I was really little," Thatcher Demko says. "I asked him if I could start playing hockey and I was always drawn to the goaltending position. Pretty early on, I was asking to be a goalie."
Demko, a U.S. national team development program graduate, is certainly an early favourite to be Team USA's starter at the 2015 world junior championship in Montreal and Toronto. Last year's American starter, Calgary Flames prospect Jon Gillies of Providence College, was also one of Demko's Hockey East contemporaries this season. Demko doesn't want to look too far ahead, though.
"If you get a chance, it's pretty special. It would be great just to go, never mind me being the starter. But that's in December and we have some Hockey East games to take care of before that rolls around."
1. Over the next season or two, where would you most like to demonstrate improvement?
"Just my simplicity in the crease. Just being a bit more under control in the crease is something I am working on."
2. Which NHL goalie(s) do you study closely?
"I take a lot of notes on Pekka Rinne and Kari Lehtonen. Rinne has similar size and he plays with a lot of athleticism. Lehtonen plays a lot of simplicity, like I try to do. Those are probably the two main guys I watch."
3. What comes to mind when you think of the sacrifices your parents (Brenton and Danielle Demko) made to help you when you were in your formative years, like 12 or 13 years old?
"The first thing is the money they spent, to be honest. And then on top of that, the extra tournaments and the time commitment with driving me to practices. I was going up to L.A. to get extra ice time and each of my parents would drive me a hour and half, two hours to get up there. San Diego's not a hotbed by any means."
4. Where was your favourite road rink in Hockey East?
"My favourite was probably BU just because the rivalry between BU and BC is so large. They'd get the 'goalie' chants going and it would be really fun to feed off of that."
5. What is your favourite movie and/or TV show?
"Favourite movie or TV show? Movie would probably have to be Man on Fire. If I'm looking for a funny movie, it would probably be Anchorman." (Got to represent San Diego?) "Yeah."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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