May 6, 2013 by conteconfidential
When Thatcher Demko and Steven Santini were chosen to represent the United States at the IIHF Men’s World Under-18 Championship, they were one step closer to realizing their season-long dream of winning a gold medal
Team USA struggled early in the tournament but overcame adversity to earn a berth in the finals against Canada. Even though they controlled most of the game, the Americans fell 3-2 to their rivals.
“I’m not happy with a silver medal at all,” Demko said. “We worked hard all season for one reason, and that was to go to the U18s and win gold. Not doing that was disappointing, but I’m extremely proud of my teammates.”
And Demko and Santini can be proud of their strong individual performances in Sochi, Russia.
Demko backstopped the U.S. in all seven games, recording a 2.24 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. He led the team to a 4-0 shutout win over Sweden in the quarterfinals, stopping all 28 shots that he faced.
Cast in a shutdown role, Santini consistently lined up against the top forwards in the tournament. He finished with a plus-minus rating of +8, putting him in a tie for second among all skaters. For his efforts, he received the directorate award as the tournament’s best defenseman.
(photo credit: Tom Sorensen)
“I’m blessed to have been given that award,” Santini said. “However, we went over there to win gold. We don’t train two years to win MVPs or best players. We train for two years to win gold so I would trade that award in any day for gold.”
The selfless Santini was also named one of Team USA’s best three players of the tournament. And he’s considered a top NHL prospect.
Ranked 47th by NHL Central Scouting on the Midterm and Final Rankings, the 6-foot-1 blueliner is projected as a second round draft pick.
As he did at the world championship, Santini thrives in a shutdown role. He combines a physically intimidating game with keen defensive awareness.
“I try to play like Brooks Orpik,” Santini said. “We’re big, physical, shutdown guys, who can also move the puck and make plays.”
During his two years in the USA National Team Development Program, Santini said that he became a much stronger skater.
“I’m a big guy so skating was always one of my weak points,” he said. “The past two years, I’ve gotten stronger and really become a lot faster.”
Even though his game is unflashy, scouts consider him dependable and well-rounded.
“Steve’s probably the most consistent player I’ve ever played with,” Demko said. “Every game, no matter who we’re playing, whether it’s USHL, Canada or a DI team, he’s always prepared. He wasn’t wearing a letter on his jersey, but we all looked up to him.”
Santini will join what is likely to be a solid blueline at Boston College next year. And, even though he’s only a junior in high school because of his late birthday, Demko is also expected to come to the Heights next year.
“I’ll have to do some classes this summer to get my senior year done, and then I’ll be coming here as a 17-year-old freshman,” Demko said. “They told me that they had [Parker] Milner leaving and they were looking to bring a guy in next year. No playing time is guaranteed, but it’ll be available for me to earn.”
Like Santini, Demko has the ability to make an impact at BC if he wins a starting job.
(photo credit: Tom Sorensen)
Demko posted a record of 15-3-0-1 in 19 USHL games with the U-18 team. He had a 2.21 goals-against average and a save percentage of .902 in those games.
The young netminder also led his team to victories over Michigan State, Nebraska-Omaha and Merrimack and notable ties with Notre Dame and New Hampshire in exhibition games.
“Playing DI teams forces you to play well just because if you don’t you’re going to get shut out 10-0,” Demko said. “It was good for us because we’re going to our colleges next year.”
A big, athletic hybrid goaltender, Demko is already drawing NHL interest even though he isn’t eligible for this year’s draft. He likened himself to 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne from the Nashville Predators.
“I like to use my size because I am 6-foot-4,” Demko said. “And I like to rely on my athleticism to make plays that some big goalies may not be able to.”
Santini said that Demko’s passion for the game and willingness to put in extra work is what really sets him apart.
“He practices harder than probably anyone I’ve ever practiced with him,” Santini said. “He hates letting in goals in practice and wants to save everything.”
Even though their time with Team USA ended in a crushing loss, Santini and Demko are grateful for the time that they spent in Ann Arbor, Mich. They said that playing for the U-18 team has prepared them for the college game and that they’re excited to play for BC.
What makes it even more special is that they will take the next step together.
“He’s one of my best friends on the team, and I’m extremely excited to go to college with him,” Demko said.
Added Santini: “I’m looking forward to playing with him just because he brings a lot of passion to the game. He’s a great teammate, and I’ll enjoy being with him for another four years.”
By Jen Dobias