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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

PHILADELPHIA – The blockbuster trade that saw Wayne Gretzky go from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988 sent shockwaves through the sports world. It also made hockey cool in Southern California, spawning the growth of the game at all levels. One of the residual effects from that growth should hear his name called in the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday night.

Thatcher Demko, NHL Central Scouting’s top-rated goalie, was born seven years after the Gretzky trade in San Diego. He grew up playing minor hockey for the San Diego Junior Gulls and Los Angeles Junior Kings. The 6-foot-4 Demko is now a standout at Boston College, and is expected to be the starter for Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship.

Demko, who still calls San Diego home, is the first to admit that without the Gretzky trade, there’s probably a very good chance he’d be doing something else.

“I remember my dad telling me that before Gretzky came, there was no hockey in the state,” Demko said on Thursday. “Then there was that boom so to speak when he got there, and clubs started forming. You’ve got to think that without him coming to Los Angeles, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into hockey.”

Demko credits his father, Brenton, – who has dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship – for instilling his passion for hockey.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to play goalie, but I couldn’t tell you why,” Demko said with a smile. “It was my dad who gave me that kick into the sport that I needed. He has supported me ever since, always buying me gear. He was always trying to find me the cheapest gear that he could when I was growing up, probably so he could still pay the mortgage. He was always doing what he could for me to play, and I still appreciate that.”

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