MEN'S HOCKEY: History In The Making
Freshman Goalie Thatcher Demko Looks Ahead With An Eye On The Past
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 03:12
Jesse Acciacca has been airbrushing goalie masks for the Boston College men’s hockey team for more than 10 years. Players usually scribble out a simple drawing with the BC logo, school crest, an Eagle, and a request for either a white or a maroon base, and Acciacca handles the rest himself.
This wasn’t the case for Thatcher Demko. BC’s incoming freshman goalie—the youngest player in college hockey this season—emailed Acciacca a full computer-generated rendering of what he wanted.
There’s the crest on the left, the logo on top, and a ripped, screeching eagle on the chin, but there’s also more. A row of runners, filled in with an American flag, make up the right side of the mask in between banners reading “Boston Strong” and “April 15, 2013.” The base is a rarely-used champagne gold. On the back plate rests an illuminated picture of the NCAA championship trophy surrounded by the four BC goalies who have raised it—names Demko can rattle off in a second: Burke ’49, Clemmensen ’01, Muse ’08 and ’10, and Milner ’12.
Around the trophy representing his goal for the future, Demko placed his past. The logos for his hometown team in San Diego, his USHL squad in Omaha, and the U.S. national development team circle the trophy, along with the logo for the foundation started in the memory of his friend Ian Jenkins, a goalie who passed away at the age of 15.
Demko has a respect for history, and that’s not surprising. His wild history is what got him to Chestnut Hill fighting for a starting goalie spot months before his 18th birthday.
There are only five sheets of ice in San Diego, and one of them is rarely used for hockey. This didn’t bode well for Demko’s father, Brenton, and his dreams of having a son play his favorite sport.
Brenton used to joke around with Demko’s mom, Danielle, saying, “We’re only going to have boys, and they’re all going to play hockey.”
Danielle always responded by asking what if they wanted to play the flute, like she did when she was growing up.
“I don’t care what he does after practice,” Brenton would quip back.
Despite his California upbringing, hockey is practically in Demko’s blood. His father shares dual-citizenship between the U.S. and Canada, and Brenton remembers watching Jim Craig, the 1980 Team USA gold medal goalie from the Miracle on Ice team, play for the Atlanta Flames when he was growing up. One of Brenton and Danielle’s first dates was at an LA Kings game with seats right up on the glass.
“I think he was trying to sell me on the sport,” Danielle said.
When Demko was born, his father was a huge Kings fan and regularly had their games on. One time Demko pointed at the TV and said he wanted to try it, so his dad got him a little puck and stick to hit around the living room. Sometimes Brenton would try pulling Demko around on two rollerblades, but he wasn’t very good.
Then, one day when Brenton was ready to give his son another chance at skating on the blades, the phone rang. Brenton went to answer it and came back to find a three-year-old Demko pushing himself around on just his right skate. Danielle and Brenton let Demko ride around for 20 minutes before switching things up, letting their son use just the left skate.
Brenton and Danielle divorced when Demko was about two-and-a-half, but the two remained close throughout his childhood.
“We traveled together for years and hockey, almost in a crazy way, kind of kept our family together,” Danielle said.
Major decisions were made as a group, up until the point when Demko felt confident enough to make them on his own.
Twelve years later, the phone rang again. Danielle, a former volleyball player at Arizona State, was 45 minutes away from coaching a match for her juniors team. A call from her son was the only thing that could possibly distract her while her girls warmed up.
It was a Wednesday before Halloween of 2010, and Demko was playing with the 16 AAA Jr. Kings team in LA. The USHL Futures draft had come and gone that year, and no team took the 15-year-old. Although he had already shown tremendous talent in the net, the draft happened right around the time of a massive growth spurt.
Danielle recalled her son complaining after one game that he’d stick his leg out to stop a puck like he’d always done, but his limb was jutting outside the post, leaving a wide gap for an easy score.
Now Danielle found herself locked in a bathroom and she couldn’t believe what her son was telling her.
“Mom,” Demko said,” Omaha’s calling me.”
There were some rumors flying around that the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, who had protected Demko, were working on a trade that would open up a roster spot at goal. Brenton followed all of it, and when the Lancers officially showed their interest he was on board. He liked the organization and thought it would be a good opportunity. Brenton, Demko’s advisor, and Bliss Littler, the Lancers’ head coach at the time, agreed that Littler should make the call to Demko so he could get his first taste of how junior hockey worked.
Demko called Brenton right after and the first thing he said was, “Dad, I’m moving to Omaha.” His father was slightly taken off guard, but it was nothing compared to Danielle’s reaction.
“Woah woah woah woah woah,” she thought. She told Demko she needed to call Brenton. She needed to call their advisor. She needed to call the coach before she sent her 15-year-old son off to play with 20-year-old men.
Demko didn’t say a word. He let his mother go on and on until she was finally done.
“Mom, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Demko told her when she finished freaking out. “Make whatever calls you’ve got to make. I’m going to Omaha.”
Two days later, Danielle and Brenton helped Demko pack up in LA and they were all in Omaha by Monday.