VANCOUVER – While the Vancouver Canucks’ beleaguered owners seek advice and potential job applications from former players, maybe it’s the current ones they should be speaking with.
On another crazy day, when into the turmoil and messaging void surrounding the team poured reports that retired Canucks icons Daniel and Henrik Sedin have discussed re-joining the reeling organization, goalie Thatcher Demko made a raw, honest plea for sanity to prevail when it comes to his goaltending coach, Ian Clark.
On the second-to-last day of a chaotic season that was extended by the coronavirus, the Canucks beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 Tuesday and again played their guts out for head coach Travis Green and his staff of assistants who have yet to be re-signed and will become unofficial free agents after Wednesday’s final game in Calgary.
“Clarkie is, he's unbelievable,” Demko said of his mentor who is widely regarded, at least outside the organization, as one of the best goalie coaches on the planet. “I mean, I owe probably just about everything to him. I don't speak too much about him in the media, but -- obviously, I'm putting in the work -- but the way he's guided me and mentored me, it's been amazing. I just really hope that they can figure something out, and have him return.
“I think the momentum that him and I have right now is exciting. I think that there's still a ton of room for me to grow. The work that he and I put in over the last few years, just the habits and the routines and the way that we're able to think the game and be on the same page now, is something that I'd love to continue to do down the stretch here in the next few years. I really hope he gets back here.”
That’s about as bold a call for action by management from a 25-year-old player as you will see in the National Hockey League.
Groomed to be a starter since the Canucks drafted him 36th in 2014, Demko seamlessly replaced Jacob Markstrom this season when the former No. 1, who was also built largely by Clark, left in free agency last fall for a $36-million contract with the Flames.
Without Clark to tutor him, Markstrom’s save percentage this year plummeted to .904 from last season’s .918. Demko’s save rate climbed to .915 from .905.
On Tuesday, while Markstrom rested and backup Louis Domingue played for Calgary, Demko started for the 35th time in 55 games and was the game’s first star.
The Canuck stopped 38 of 40 shots and made 20 saves in the third period alone as the Flames, who blew a 5-1 lead against Vancouver on Sunday, tried to push back from a 3-0 deficit.
Demko appears to be a rising star. He has definitely become part of the young core on which general manager Jim Benning, who may or may not have a job at the end of the week, is trying to build the Canucks.
Benning believes so strongly in Demko, the goaltender was just signed to a five-year, $25-million contract extension. In this context, how much is Ian Clark worth? How much is Travis Green worth?
“You know, it's been a crazy year, definitely the hardest year that I've had to go through,” Demko said. “Just unforeseen adversity, having to battle through a bunch of stuff. I feel like I'm a stronger hockey player coming out of it. If we can make it through a year like this, we could probably make it through just about anything. Try to shine a positive light on the situation and learn and grow from it.
“I felt like it was a good year for me just as far as taking another step in my development and just learning about myself, learning how to play through adversity at this level. I kind of started to feel like I was understanding my game and what I had to do to be successful on a nightly basis playing a lot of games. Those lessons are invaluable as you continue your career. There's a ton of stuff that I was able to pick up on this year.”
And a ton more to learn.
If managing owner Francesco Aquilini asks Henrik and Daniel Sedin what they think, they’d probably say – as nearly everyone does – that the Canucks have an excellent young goalie who is flourishing with his highly-specialized coach, and it would be smart to keep them together.
It’s a no-brainer, really. But here we are.
News that Aquilini has contacted the Sedins and that the best and two of the most respected players in franchise history may be brought back into hockey operations three years after their retirement is positive news.
They carry credibility and a conscience, and the twins are smart and self-aware enough to work through their inexperience and find ways to help stabilize the organization and spread the workload in hockey operations.
After the year the Canucks have had, stability feels like a good idea. It should have started a while ago with the coaching staff.