NHL

Demko, Holtby harmonious as Canucks strive to achieve balance between pipes

With the NHL preparing to start an unprecedented season, goaltenders Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby "have hit if off" despite knowing they’ll be sharing the Vancouver Canucks crease.

Vancouver coach Travis Green says rotation important due to crowded schedule

Vancouver Canucks goalies Thatcher Demko, left, and newly-signed Braden Holtby, right, appear supportive of each other as they vie for starts this season. (The Canadian Press)

Sharing any small space can be difficult. Mixing in ego, pride and ambition can create even more challenges.

With the NHL preparing to start an unprecedented season, goaltenders Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby seem to have found harmony knowing they'll be sharing the Vancouver Canucks' crease.

"Holts and I have hit it off really well," Demko said during a training camp interview. "He's been a great guy to get to know, really down to earth, really hard working. He's easy to talk too, chat about things, share things about different things we are working on."

Holtby, signed as a free agent after 10 years with the Washington Capitals, arrived in Vancouver early to spend time getting to know Demko.

"We've been able to do some work together and get to know each other," said the former Vezina Trophy winner. "I think it's going to work out really well. He has that work ethic that is needed for a team to have success [and] for goalies to have success."

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The Canucks found themselves in the market for a goaltender when free agent Jacob Markstrom bolted to the rival Calgary Flames after receiving a six-year, $36-million US offer.

The Canucks signed Holtby to a two-year, $8.6-million contract.

In every work environment some people might not necessarily like each other, but they can still remain productive.

Demko said a hockey dressing room is no different. But having a positive relationship with the other goaltender makes everyone's life much easier.

"It's something where it takes a little bit of an edge off you if you know you have a little bit of support from your goalie partners," Demko said. "If guys are butting heads, it's something that just nags at you.

"When you can support one another it's just going to elevate each other's play [and] elevate the team's play. It's been good so far with Braden."

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The Canucks open their season Wednesday in Edmonton with back-to-back games against the Oilers. They will play 56 games in 116 days in a very competitive seven-team Canadian division.

Plenty of parts will have to synchronize for the Canucks to make the playoffs, but the team is "in a good spot" when it comes to goaltenders, said head coach Travis Green.

"We have a young goalie we hope is still improving [who] played tremulously in the playoffs," he said about Demko. "We [also] have a guy that has already done a lot in the league and has a lot of juice left."

Experience and upside

Holtby, 31, and Demko, 25, bring slightly different styles. The six-foot-two, 211-pound Holtby is a flow and feel type of goalie. The six-foot-4, 192-pound Demko is more technical.

Both come into the year with something to prove.

Demko has been groomed to be a starter since the Canucks picked him 36th overall in the 2014 draft. In his first full season in the NHL last year, the San Diego, Calif., native won 13 of the 25 games he started with a 3.06 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

Demko shone in the playoffs. When Markstrom was sidelined by an injury, he stopped 128 of 130 shots over three games before the Canucks lost Game 7 of the second round to the Vegas Golden Knights.

"You look at what [Demko] did in the playoffs, even his progression over the last few years, we've expected him to be knocking on the door to be a starting goalie for years," Green said.

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Holtby wants to erase the memory of a sub-par season last year when he had a 25-14-6 record, a 3.11 GAA and .897 save percentage.

"Last year was a bit of a struggle at times," the Lloydminster, Sask., native said in an interview earlier this year. "Things didn't go as planned."

Holtby brings an impressive track record.

He helped lead the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup championship. A five-time all-star, he led the league in 2015 in shots faced (2,044) saves (1,887), games played (73) and was second in wins (41). He was named the NHL's top goaltender in 2016 after tying Martin Brodeur's record with 48 victories.

Goaltending will be important when Vancouver opens the season with 11 games in 18 days, including three sets of back-to-backs.

"It's going to be a sprint right to the end of the season," Green said.

"We are fortunate we have two guys that we are going to have faith in going into the net. This season you are going to have to play your two-goalie rotation more than you have in the past with how many games there are."

Green said performance will determine which goaltender plays more games.

"To have two guys like that to start training camp is exciting for us," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I already know who is going to play how many games. Let's see where they are on the ice."

About the Author

Jim has written about sports in Canada for more than 40 years for The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, CFL.ca and Swimming Canada. He has covered eight Olympic Games and three Paralympics. He was there the night the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup and has covered 12 Grey Cups.

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