Goalie Thatcher Demko nearing return to Vancouver Canucks lineup

Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko is close to returning to game action.

The 27-year-old netminder told reporters Tuesday that he plans to act as the Canucks’ backup on Saturday when Vancouver hosts the Philadelphia Flyers.

Demko hasn’t played since Dec. 1 when he suffered a lower-body injury in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers and had to be helped off the ice.

Recovering has been tough both physically and mentally, the goalie said.

“Luckily in my career I haven’t really had something this long before so it was definitely some new territory for me,” he said.

“I had to work through that a little bit mentally, just being patient with it. So definitely been putting in the work both mentally and physically to get back and feeling really good now.”

For Demko, getting back to trusting himself and his biomechanics has been a process — one that will continue as he prepares to retake the starter’s net.

“There’s obviously scar tissue in the injury but there’s also mental scar tissue when it comes to getting back out there,” he said. “So, breaking that down, obviously it helps getting in some team skates and getting some more chaotic looks and things like that.

“But overall, just really excited to be back.”

Vancouver’s coaching staff wants to get the star goalie into a few more team practices before he returns for a game, said head coach Rick Tocchet.

“There’s no way we’re putting him in there if he’s not ready. He’s too valuable to this franchise,” he said. “So if he has to wait another few games, so be it. We have other opportunities for other guys to see what they got.”

With Demko out, Collin Delia was called up from the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Canucks to work in tandem with backup Spencer Martin. Delia eventually emerged as the No. 1 in Demko’s absence, and Vancouver placed Martin on waivers Monday.

Tocchet said the team will call a goalie up from Abbotsford for Wednesday’s game against the New York Rangers in Vancouver, but he declined to say who that goalie would be.

Demko struggled to start the 2022-23 campaign and posted a 3-10-2 record over 15 starts with a 3.93 goals-against average and a .883 save percentage when he was sidelined by the injury.

The numbers were well below the 2.72 goals-against average and the .915 save percentage the San Diego, Calif., native posted across 64 appearances last season.

This year has been difficult for the Canucks as a whole. The team currently sits sixth in the Pacific Division with a 21-29-4 record, 15 points out of a playoff spot.

The disappointing performance has led to major changes in Vancouver. The club traded captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders earlier this month, weeks after firing former head coach Bruce Boudreau.

Watching from the sidelines as the team floundered hasn’t been easy, Demko said.

“Obviously, it’s always tough losing a coach, especially when it’s a guy like Bruce. And the last few weeks there, I wasn’t able to help out,“ he said. ”At a certain point there, you’re playing for someone’s job. So I kind of felt a little guilty, almost.”

Tocchet, former coach of the Arizona Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning, took over behind Vancouver’s bench on Jan. 22, and while Demko said he’s still getting used to the new staff, he believes the team has bought into the change.

“Everyone’s willing to do what it takes to get this team moving in the right direction and I think everyone’s on board with that,“ he said.

Talk of yet another move has swirled as the NHL’s trade deadline approaches, with multiple reports suggesting Demko wants out of Vancouver.

Hearing the rumours was “a little frustrating,” the goalie said.

“It’s not true. I’ll just say that point blank,” Demko said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2023.


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