Goalie Thatcher Demko reflects on battling opponents and COVID-19
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Besides trying to stop opposing players from scoring, Thatcher Demko also had to attempt to stop an invisible opponent: COVID-19.
The Vancouver Canucks are starting training camp this week in Abbotsford (September 23 to 25) after their disappointing 2021 campaign. The Canucks struggled with inconsistent play and an unforgiving and gruelling revised NHL schedule due to the pandemic. The team looked tired and it showed with their play on the ice.
One of the few positives from the Canucks’ disappointing season was the play of goalie, Thatcher Demko. In 35 games, he had a record of 16 wins and 18 losses (with 1 OTL). Demko’s goals-against-average was 2.85 with one shutout—and a .915 save percentage.
Demko, besides trying to stop opposing players from scoring, also had to attempt to stop an invisible opponent: COVID-19. During the middle of the season, over 20 Canucks players and coaching staff tested positive for the Coronavirus. Their season was put on hiatus; while the players and team staff recovered. The NHL revised the last 19 games of their schedule, which the Canucks later played—or rather endured—in a span of 31 days.
Demko recalled when he tested positive for COVID-19; he did not know immediately that he had any symptoms. “I think the pandemic put [a new] perspective on a lot of different things,” Demko said in an interview with Sportsnet on September 10. “I didn’t really follow the typical COVID [and] 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.’”
Demko says when the virus affected many of his teammates, it was not only physically draining but mentally as well. “Everyone kind of dealt with it a little bit differently,” he said. “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 manoeuvre through them. Mentally, you can kind of take lessons from it.”
In other NHL news, on September 13, the Columbus Blue Jackets replaced assistant coach, Sylvain Lefebvre, with AHL coach, Steve McCarthy. The decision was made after Lefebvre elected not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “While we are disappointed, we respect that this decision is a personal one for Sylvain and wish him well,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “We feel fortunate to have an outstanding coach join our club in Steve McCarthy, who has played in this league, won championships as a player and been an important member of our hockey operations department as an assistant coach in Cleveland.”
Also, the Calgary Flames plan to go cashless at all home games this season at the Scotiabank Saddledome. This will apply to all concession stands, 50/50 ticket sales and retail locations. Calgary news station, 660 News reported: “The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation says although COVID-19 played a role in the decision, feedback from fans ultimately helped them decide cashless was the way to go. Cashless transactions will now allow for more convenient methods of payment such as credit, debit, Apple Pay and Google Pay.”
Lastly, the Boston Bruins are mourning the death of former Boston centre, Fred Stanfield. He passed away on September 13 at age 77 (cause of death undisclosed). The Toronto native was a member of the Bruins’ cup-winning teams in 1970 and 1972. Stanfield played six seasons for Boston from 1967 till 1973. He ranks 20th in team history with 274 assists. Stanfield played a total of 914 NHL games with 616 points (211 goals, 405 assists)—as a member of Chicago, Boston, Minnesota and Buffalo (1974-1978). The Boston Bruins tweeted their condolences via Twitter on September 14: “The Bruins are saddened by the passing of two-time Stanley Cup champion Fred Stanfield. We are keeping his family, friends, and teammates in our thoughts.”