It must be something in the water. How else do you explain that two of USA Hockey’s top goaltending prospects hail from Southern California?
Some might say that Thatcher Demko and Blake Weyrick are cut out of the same California cloth, and they would be right. The two had never met in the land of surf and sun, but developed a quick relationship once they teamed up in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the National Team Development Program.
Demko had pretty much solidified his place as the star goaltender with the Under-18 Team, while Weyrick had left Shattuck-St. Mary’s to join the Under-17 Team. The bonds of friendship quickly formed, and the two were pretty much inseparable until Demko left the program at the end of the year.
The two have reunited here in Pittsburgh as they look to carry Team White to victory at the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
“Being here and once again playing on the same team is awesome,” said Weyrick, who grew up in Santa Monica.
“Both of us come from California and playing together last year it really means a lot. He’s an awesome guy and a great goaltender.
The Southern California pedigree is not the only similarity between the two. Both are giant goaltenders, each 6-foot-3, and extremely athletic for their size. And they both are driven to succeed at the next level.
“At the end of the day they’re big but they have the mobility and they get around the crease well,” said Kevin Reiter, goaltending coach at the NTDP. “They’re efficient and use their size to their advantage. They not only work hard, they work smart.”
Despite their fierce competitive natures on the ice, both players display an easy-going California cool away from the rink. They are happy to represent the new breed of USA Hockey player, and take pride in the development of the sport on the West Coast.
“Obviously we’re pretty prideful to represent California here,” said Demko, a San Diego native. “We also have [forward] Chace De Leo, who is also from California. It’s been really awesome to see the game develop in California with the Ducks winning the Cup, as much as I hate to say it because I’m a Kings fan.
“But kids are getting into it now and the game is just growing, which is nice.”
Demko was a huge part of the NTDP’s success last year that culminated with a silver medal at the 2012 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sochi, Russia.
He also posted a 30-9-4 record on home soil with a .910 save percentage and six shutouts, and proved that he was ready for the next level, posting an 8-2-3 record against college programs, including victories over Michigan and Merrimack.
One of the most coveted college recruits in recent history, Demko looked to the east when it came time to select a school, and chose Boston College over UMass, Northeastern and Cornell, among others.
“Everybody likes Thatcher a lot. He has a lot of upside,” Reiter said. “It will be interesting to see what happens at BC, if he’s going to play right off the bat because he’s highly skilled and highly touted.”
“I think that everybody will see them showcase their skills and really show the scouts and everyone involved why they’re here and why we consider them the best there is in America.”
There is little doubt that Weyrick will attract the same type of attention when it comes time to make his next move.
Despite missing much of the year with an injury, he compiled a 2-2-0 record and 2.95 goals-against average with the Under-18 Team, and served as Demko’s backup in Sochi.
Both players are eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and hope to continue the wave of talented American goaltenders who have come along in recent years.
“I think it’s a different kind of kid who plays goaltender in California,” Weyrick said.
“It’s awesome to see in how much the sport is growing and how well it’s doing, especially at the goalie position.”