“Hardest thing I’ve had to go through”: Canucks’ Demko opens up on injury

After years of losing, Thatcher Demko was looking forward to an extended run of playoff hockey with the Vancouver Canucks.

And he was oh so close to returning to the lineup.

Demko suffered a knee injury in a game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 9 but returned in time for the second-last game of the regular season. He played in two games to warm up for the postseason and made 22 saves on 24 shots to help the Canucks beat Nashville in Game 1 of the first round.

But that was the last we saw of him in the playoffs, as he was out with yet another knee injury.

“Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to go through as a player,” Demko said at today’s season-ending media availability at Rogers Arena. “Obviously, we’ve been through some tough years here. Finally get the opportunity, and it’s always tough watching. It was really hard.”

There were rumours surrounding Demko’s potential return date, with speculation that he could return by the end of the second round. He didn’t, but Demko confirmed that he would have been able to play in the Western Conference Final had the Canucks won Game 7.

“I was really close to coming back,” he said. “I was looking to probably be available for the next series had we gotten to that point.”

Demko spoke highly of Casey DeSmith, who he formed a friendship with, and Arturs Silovs, who played the majority of playoff games in his absence. He tried to help out the young Latvian netminder in subtle ways.

“I can’t say enough about them, stepping in like that. Obviously Arty was fantastic. Played his ass off for this group. I tried to talk to him as much as I could, I didn’t want to get in his way or be overbearing, it’s a lot on his plate. I felt like I was able to chat with him here and there.”

Demko’s workload is sure to be heavily scrutinized going forward. The 28-year-old started 49 of the first 66 games before suffering his first knee injury. He missed most of the 2022-23 season due to injury and was hurt late in the 2021-22 season when he started 61 games.

“That’s not really up to me,” Demko said in response to a question about limiting his workload going forward. “I’m sure I’ll sit down with [Canucks director of goaltending Ian Clark] and the rest of the coaching staff and evaluate the best way to move forward with that kind of thing.”

Is there something he can do differently to limit injuries going forward?

“Going into next season, maybe I can tweak a couple things system-wise. I’m not going to try and reinvent my game or anything. Obviously I put a lot of work in in the summer and during the season maintenance-wise, and that’s part of the frustration when [an injury] does happen, knowing how much work you put into making sure that doesn’t happen. Just trying to keep learning and growing in that area, and do everything I can to stay healthy.”