It may have been a throwaway season, but there was never garbage time last year for Thatcher Demko.
As the Vancouver Canucks closed their most disappointing season this century with a meaningless stretch of games in May — future National Hockey League historians will be intrigued that the team’s dismal regular season ended AFTER the Stanley Cup playoffs began — Demko was still trying to prove himself.
Hollowed by his bout with COVID-19 in April, the Canucks’ new starting goalie was still playing like it meant something, which it did.
After losing his first four starts after the coronavirus crushed the Canucks, Demko somehow found the mental and physical strength to finish the season with a six-game stretch that exemplified his breakthrough as Jacob Markstrom’s replacement.
Playing behind what turned out to be the worst team in the Canadian division, Demko stopped 93.1 percent of shots and won four times. His save counts in those wins: 42, 40, 32 and 40.
“People talk about Thatcher’s March and how well he played,” Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark told Sportsnet last week. “But what he did at the end of the season, after what he’d been through and what the team went through, was even more impressive to me. He stole games.”
Just imagine if he were healthy.
“I think the pandemic put perspective on a lot of different things,” Demko said Friday when asked about his recovery from COVID. “I didn’t really follow the typical COVID … how COVID usually works. I was okay for about a week or 10 days (after testing positive), and then around like Day 11 or 12, it hit me really hard. And that was kind of the time when they were pushing us back on the ice. I was like: ‘Hey, like this is kind of just getting to me now.’
“Everyone kind of dealt with it a little bit differently. It was definitely hard that last stretch of games, really challenging. There was probably not a guy in the room that was feeling 100 percent through the last game of the year. But those are the things I’m talking about where you play through stuff. There’s a bunch of speed bumps and you’ve got to try and figure out how to maneuver through them. Mentally, you can kind of take lessons from it.