Canucks' Demko glad to have goalie coach Ian Clark back: 'I stuck my neck out'

Thatcher Demko isn't usually one to speak out publicly.

The quiet, reserved Vancouver Canucks netminder prefers to let his actions do the talking.

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In the final days of a frustrating, disappointing 2020-21 season, however, with it looking like goaltending coach Ian Clark might be moving on from the organization, Demko opened up about the man he credits with his NHL breakthrough.

"He's unbelievable," Demko said back in May. "I owe probably just about everything to him.

"I'm putting in the work, but the way he's guided me and mentored me, it's been amazing. I just hope that they can figure something out and have him return."

Just over three weeks later, Clark had a new contract. And his No. 1 disciple couldn't have been more thrilled.

"He's a little crazy at times, which I think is good," Demko said at the recent NHL/NHLPA media tour. "He's got that mentality (of) break you down to build you up.

"If you can buy into that, you're going to reap the reward."

The 25-year-old described his first two seasons under Clark's tutelage as grinding grunt work to get where he needed to be in terms of technique and mindset.

"I went through the trenches," Demko said. "It was a lot of hard work, a lot of hours."

And he wasn't about to let Clark leave without his views being put on record.

"I stuck my neck out," Demko continued. "I didn't mean anything malicious by it ... I wasn't trying to offend anyone. I was just voicing my honest opinion about it. I don't usually speak that freely in the media.

"But when it's necessary, I've got no problem doing it."

The Boston College product started working with Clark ahead of the 2019-20 season when Jacob Markstrom was still Vancouver's starter, posting a 13-10-2 record with a .905 save percentage and a 3.06 goals-against average in 27 appearances before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The NHL eventually got back playing inside its Toronto and Edmonton bubbles in the summer of 2020, with Markstrom carrying the water for the Canucks in the qualifiers against the Minnesota Wild and a first-round playoff upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

Markstrom was again in the crease when Vancouver faced the Golden Knights in the second round, but suffered an injury that opened the door for Demko.

With the Canucks down 3-1 in the series, all the rookie did from there was stop 123 of the next 125 shots he faced — including a shutout in Game 6 — to help his team push Vegas to the limit before finally bowing out in the winner-take-all finale.

Demko then cemented himself in the top job after Markstrom left in free agency. He registered a 16-18-1 mark, .915 save percentage and 2.85 GAA in the pandemic-shortened season that saw the Canucks fail to ever really get going before COVID-19 cut through the locker room, infecting players, coaches and their families.

"We didn't get off to a great start, and then the consistency just wasn't really there," said Demko, who signed a five-year, US$25-million contract extension in March. "I felt like we were actually playing our best hockey when COVID hit us. There was actually a second there where playoffs were not so far out of reach.

"Then the hockey gods wagged a finger in our face."

Like his teammates, the San Diego, Calif., native is looking for a reset as the Canucks — still in contract negotiations with franchise cornerstones and restricted free agents Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes — return to the wide-open Pacific Division in 2021-22.

"A good year for us to prove that last year was just a one-off," he said. "We showed spurts last year like we still have that team."

And Demko, much to his relief, still has his coach.

"I had just gotten over the hump with (Clark) as far as seeing where my game could go," he said.

"The potential of him leaving right when I felt like I was ready to take that next step was tough to swallow."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

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