LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Thatcher Demko said one of the most enduring lessons he learned at the USA Hockey national junior evaluation camp last year was that roster spots aren't won or lost in August.
The goaltender would do well to remember those lessons this year, as the first few days of camp aren't anything he's likely to brag about.
"It's been alright," Demko told NHL.com. "I don't think I've played my best yet."
Demko allowed two goals on seven shots playing the first 30 minutes Monday in USA White's 4-3 loss to Finland. In parts of three games, he's allowed eight goals on 27 shots.
"It's hard for goaltenders to come in the middle of summer," United States coach Mark Osiecki said. "You don't know how much they've been on the ice, what kind of game action they've seen, bodies in front of them and the speed factor of it. It's hard to adjust and it's going to take some time. He's been average; he knows that."
It's an odd turn for a player who hasn't dealt with much adversity in his hockey career.
He was the third goalie on the United States team that finished fifth in Malmo, Sweden at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, and as the youngest player in NCAA hockey he backstopped Boston College to a Beanpot Tournament title and a spot in the Frozen Four. The Vancouver Canucks recognized that success and picked Demko in the second round (No. 36) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Demko didn't play in any games at the 2014 WJC tournament, but as the lone returning goaltender the hope is he can take control of the net early in camp.
"You want a guy to take the net," said Jim Johansson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey and the general manager of the 2015 WJC team. "You want him to command the net and show that it's his net and exude that confidence in his game. Solid play and consistent play from a goaltender makes your team so much better. Your defense can play with more confidence, they're not afraid to give up a shot. ... Thatcher has a great track record with the national team and the [WJC] presents the next challenge. There'll be other guys challenging him for that spot but you have to look at his track record and hope he commands the net."
He didn't command the net last year at the summer camp. Demko rated his play last summer as subpar as well, but it did start him on the road to success. It's also when Demko believes he learned the most.
"Last year I didn't have a great camp, but the biggest thing I learned was they don't pick guys right out of camp to go to the tournament," he said. "After this camp is done you have half a season to prove yourself. Regardless of how you perform at this camp, you really have to focus on that first half and make sure you play your best."
Demko feels he'll be able to pick up where he left off at Boston College. His goalie coach at BC, Mike Ayers, agrees.
"I think he's matured immensely every single year," said Ayers, who also is goaltending coach for the national junior team. "I've had a relationship for about six years now with him and every year he gets more and more mature. He understands what he needs to do to be a better goalie and a better person. It shows in his game but it takes time to get that development."
No one doubts Demko will put it all together and start playing like the goaltender he's been in the past.
"I don't worry about Thatcher at all," teammate J.T. Compher said. "He's a heck of a goalie. I love playing with him at the [United States National Team Development Program]. He'll be ready to go. It's the middle of the summer, it's fast-paced hockey. I don't blame him for any of the goals. We haven't really given him much help, especially on the [USA White] team. I think that Thatcher has nothing to worry about. He's a very good goaltender and he's going to show it."
Ayers, who knows Demko's game better than anyone, feels the same way.
"I think he's underachieved so far," Ayers said. "He knows that I'm his worst critic. But at the same time he holds himself to a higher standard. I think we'll see him get better and better as the week goes on. He's a competitor; he's a hard worker. The bumps he's had along the way here he'll relish and he'll fix."