San Diego native Thatcher Demko is a freshman goaltender at Boston College, and he recently represented the United States at the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. He was the top-rated North American goaltender in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings for the 2014 NHL Draft and is considered a strong candidate to be a first-round selection.
The first time I tried going ice skating I was 3 years old. My dad took me to the rink and he said I hated it and was crying and complaining the whole time. So he said we'll wait another year and we'll try it then. Then one day he said he was putting roller skates on me, and got one skate on when the phone rang inside the house. He ran back in to grab the phone and when he looked outside he said I was wheeling around on one skate. That's when he thought I was ready to go back to the ice.
Some of my earliest memories are of watching hockey with my dad. As long as I can remember he always had hockey on TV, watching the Kings. I have pictures of me not even a year old watching Kings games. He's a huge fan of the game. He was born in Columbus, but his parents are Canadian and he spent a few years at the University of British Columbia.
The first team I played for was the San Diego Ice Arena Dragons when I was 5 or 6. That was the age where they rotated goalies every week. But I really enjoyed playing goal, and as I kept playing each year it got to the point where I was asking to play goalie every week. I guess it was a natural thing and I stuck with it.
I was a big Kings fan growing up, but the player I enjoyed watching the most was Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. Being in California back in early 2000s I wasn't exposed to a lot of hockey, but he was a guy I tended to watch. I remember watching him win the Cup in 2003. That was pretty awesome because I was a big fan of his. Seeing him get success was a motivator for me. I think I have a Fathead of him in my room somewhere that my dad bought me when I was 10 or 12 years old.
I went from the SDIA Dragons to the SDIA Ice Cubes when I was 10 years old, and then up to the San Diego Junior Gulls when I was 12. I was with the Junior Gulls for three seasons. Our big rival was the Los Angeles Selects. They played in the Tier I league while we played in a Tier II league called the North American Prospects Hockey League. I remember we did a rivalry game that was a fundraiser and I think we got 500 people into our rink, the Iceoplex in Escondido. It was the biggest crowd I ever remember having there and it was awesome. I think we beat them that time and it was the only time we ever beat them.
I played midget my third season with the Junior Gulls but after that I knew I had to find a new team. The Selects and the L.A. Junior Kings both played Tier I and that's what I wanted to try. I tried out for both teams and picked the Junior Kings. I was only there for about a month and a half, though. That's when the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League asked me to come out. The opportunity to play junior hockey at 15 years old was too good to pass up, so I left Southern California to start my hockey travels.
Playing ice hockey in San Diego as a kid wasn't easy. It was hard to find ice time and hard to find players that have the same passion for it that you do. The last few summers I've been home, though, it seems to have gotten bigger. I'm always being asked to help out with kid camps, helping kids learn how to skate. And I feel the number of camps around the San Diego area is increasing a lot. Every rink now has camps for all ages. I've seen guys that are 40, 45, 50 years old trying to get out there for the first time and learn how to skate. It's been a huge jump and it's been cool to see.