Vancouver Canucks

Bursting the 'Bubble Demko' Identity

"I just want to be Demko:" The NHL playoff bubble might have put his name on the map, but even the Vancouver netminder wants the nickname laid to rest

April 13, 2022

By Isabella Urbani  - @TheChick4Stick

On September 1, 2020, Thatcher Demko received his first 60-minute taste of playoff hockey, and game action in nearly half a year, after the NHL's lengthy COVID layoff that spring.

With their backs against the wall in a second-round matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights, a single loss would send the Vancouver Canucks home. And after an injury sidelined starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom, the hopes of the last Canadian team now lied in Demko's hands.

It is a pretty tall task for any goalie to come back from a 3-1 deficit, let alone a backup netminder coming into a series cold. 

To fans, it felt like the hockey Gods had finally intervened, and said enough is enough. This is a fandom of heartbreak, not heroics. If they only knew the spectacle they were about to witness, and continue to watch not only for the next two games, but for years to come.

The phenomenon became known as "Bubble Demko." Some sort of demi-God creature and bane of existence for the Knights. Call it what you want, he simply wasn't human.

As if 42 saves in Game 5 wasn't enough, Demko followed the performance up with a 48-save shutout. Not only had he and the team staved off elimination for the second time, they had evened the series. Long gone was the two-game lead that seemed to signify the end for the Canucks.

Surely we could chalk it up to luck? An adrenaline-fuelled performance for the masses? Low stakes, high rewards?

Losing to Vegas in six would be respectable - pushing it to seven seemed downright greedy and out of the question.

Ultimately, what set the "Bubble Demko" identity into motion was the superhero antics of it all.

You don't have to be a Canucks fan in Vancouver to remember the events of 2011. After a dark decade of frustration and early first-round exits, it felt like the underdogs were going to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.

"I had nothing to lose. We were down 3-1," Demko said about being thrust into the thick of the series. "I just wanted to come in and do my best, and try to help the team out in any way that I could."

With desperado save after desperado save, the netminder had fans feeling like they were watching the trailer for the Thatcher Demko Experience. It was a show so good, people would have been willing to pay for a lifetime subscription in advance.

I suppose that's why the Canucks fandom was quick to keep the narrative alive. There wasn't a "Demko" without the "Bubble." They were one and the same.

But how did the star in the making feel about the nickname?

"It was kind of funny at first. I was getting some texts and stuff," Demko said.

But what started as amusing became sort of an annoyance.

"It's getting a little old now - I have kind of outgrown it," he admitted.

And outgrown it he has. Although Demko acknowledges it as a "foot in the door," the nickname itself has gone way past its shelf life.

"Now," he says, "I just want to be Demko."

So, how can fans retire a name that represents the magic of the bubble? You start at the beginning.

What transpired in the bubble was no fluke. Demko has always been an A-calibre goalie, and he has the track record to back it up.

The San Diego, California native first took his talent to the U.S. National Development Team for the 2012-13 season. During that time, he posted a 15-3-0 record with a 2.21 goals against average and a .903 save percentage in 19 games played.

Looking back, the 26-year-old had high praise for his lone year with the team, and the opportunity of testing himself against older opponents.

"The style of the program is tough. They hold you to a high standard, they give you a taste of pro hockey before you get there. When you're that young, it kind of gives you an idea of what to expect, and what it is going to be like."

He also took immeasurable pride in getting to do so while representing the United States.

"Playing for your country is something that no one takes lightly, and you don't want to take that stuff for granted."

Demko served as the third-string goalie for the World Juniors that December, and with his ties to USA Hockey, had a good chance of making the Olympic team this season.

When the time came for the next step, Demko landed at Boston College, which laid the framework for him to be a starter in his freshman year.

"Boston College gave me an opportunity to come in a year early, so I was able to go in when I was 17 and get a year of college hockey under my belt before the draft … that was the best move for my career."

In his first season, Demko led Boston College to a Beanpot victory and the Frozen Four, while picking up a plethora of accolades. Amongst those, he was named the Hockey East `Stop It' Goaltending Champion for having the lowest goals against average. Demko's 1.35 was the lowest since Jimmy Howard's 1.15 with Maine during the 2003-04 season.

With his sparkling play, NHL teams were starting to take notice of the up-and-coming goaltender. One of the teams being the Vancouver Canucks, who selected Demko in the second round of the 2014 draft.

After three years at Boston College, Demko was ready to test himself as a pro and join the Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate in Utica, New York. But like his time in the NCAA, Demko's stay in the minors was brief, and after two seasons, he was ready to take the leap to the big leagues.

When he arrived to Vancouver during the 2019-20 season, Demko played a supporting role behind Markstrom, appearing in a total of 27 games. But his appreciation for the former Canucks goaltender predated their time together as goalie partners.

"He was a guy that I always looked up to - he was older than me, had a lot more experience than I did at the time [and] was always there if I needed to talk about something, or pick his brain. It was a great relationship from the start. He was here when I signed my first pro contract … even now, it's great to see the success in Calgary and keep in touch with him."

With less than 50 games under his NHL belt, Demko had gone from backup to starter in front of an eager fan base, still reeling from the excitement of the bubble.

But not all was sunshine and rainbows. The 2020-21 season was one jam-packed with injuries, illness, new faces, and to everyone's dismay, underperforming play.

Even now, it feels like Demko has to play at such a high level each night to give his team a chance to win. In times of stress, the goaltender falls back on mindfulness.

"The biggest thing is taking it day by day. If you take a step back and look at the big picture, it may get overwhelming, so just waking up every day with a fresh mindset and trying to conquer the day is something that I have been focusing on."

He's done his best to enjoy the final stretch of the season, as the Vancouver Canucks battle for a playoff spot.

"Obviously all these games are important, so we [have] to show up, and have a smile on our face, and get to work."

See, maybe he is human after all!

At the end of the day, Demko is still the boy who fell in love with hockey watching LA Kings games with his dad.

And the same goalie who danced in between whistles in college, much to the chagrin of Patrick Roy (but that's a story for another time).

All along, it's never been "Dancing Demko," or "Bubble Demko," but just plain old Thatcher Demko - and as Canucks fans have come to discover, that's a pretty incredible version.