Was anybody else blown away by the historical bombshell following Thatcher Demko’s win against the Buffalo Sabres?
That’s right. In 49 years of hockey, no rookie goaltender in team history won their first two career games. Is it that much of a rare occurrence for rookie goalies to win right off the bat, or have the Canucks historically suffered from mediocre netminding?
Perhaps we shouldn’t touch that question....
In fairness, and I hate to rain on the Demko parade, but his record is a bit deceiving. While Demko is the first goalie in team history to win his first two games, former Canucks netminder Frank Caprice did win his first three starts back in 1983-84. The only reason he doesn’t hold the record is because he started his NHL career playing 17 minutes in relief towards the end of the 1982-83 season. Technically, he won his first three career starts, but but not his first three career games...
Curt Ridley also won his first two starts as a Canuck back in 1975-76, but played in two games for the New York Rangers the year before, eliminating him from the conversation as well.
With Demko besting every other rookie Canucks goaltender, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the other goaltenders in club history to see how they fared in their initial games with the club.
I’ve included ALL of the Canucks rookie goaltenders. That includes those who started their career elsewhere other than Vancouver, as long as they were still considered rookies when they came to the Canucks. While those goalies are technically out of the running for Demko’s record, it’s interesting to see that none of them, other than Ridley and Caprice, won their first two career starts anyways.
In total, Vancouver has seen 27 rookie goaltenders wear team colours. Here’s a look at all of them who tried (and failed) to win their first two career games, before Demko arrived.
First off, here’s a mention for the rookie goaltenders who never reached two games started in a Canucks jersey.
27. Rob McVicar (2003-04). Not only did McVicar fail to start a game, he only ended up with three minutes played in the NHL and didn’t have to make a save. However, he’s worth mentioning for one reason. He’s the only goalie from the Northwest Territories to see NHL action.
26. Steve McKichan (1990-91). Well, McKichan’s debut lasted longer than McVicar’s...by a whole 17 minutes. He played one period of hockey for the Canucks, letting in two goals on eight shots. It was the only NHL action of his career.
25. Murray Bannerman (1978-79). Hey, Bannerman never let in a goal wearing a Canucks jersey! He made seven saves in 20 minutes of hockey during the 78-79 season. Unlike McVicar and McKichan though, Bannerman went on to play 249 NHL games, all with the Chicago Blackhawks aside from his one period of action with the Canucks.
24. Joacim Eriksson (2013-14). Remember when Joacim Eriksson was a promising goaltending prospect? That unofficially ended during his NHL debut. Eriksson entered the net during a January, 2014 game against the Anaheim Ducks after Eddie Lack was pulled. He allowed six goals in a 9-1 loss, and never saw NHL action again.
23. Drew MacIntyre (2007-08). Played two games in relief for the Canucks to start his career. Didn’t get another NHL game until 2011-12 with the Buffalo Sabres, and finally got his first career start in 2013-14 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
22. Alfie Michaud (1999-00). The only goalie among the honourable mentions to officially start an NHL game with the Canucks. His NHL career ended with one loss and he got one other game in relief with the Canucks.
Goaltenders with a star (*) beside their name indicated someone who was a rookie, but didn’t begin their career in Vancouver.
Not Even Close to Demko
*21. Maxime Ouellet (2005-06). Ironically enough, this “rookie” ended his career with the Canucks. He played eight career games between Washington and Pittsburgh before coming to Vancouver, where he registered two losses in four games played.
Verdict: Lost both starts as a Canuck, ending his NHL career.
*20. Kevin Weekes (1998-99). Not only did Weekes fail to win any of his first 11 games in a Canucks jersey, but he might have the longest streak for games played without a win to start his NHL career. Weekes went 0-5-1 in 11 games with the Panthers in ‘97-98. Then, he was part of the Pavel Bure trade the following season, and played another 11 games for the Canucks. Weekes went 0-8-1 in those games. Finally, he won his 16th career start (and his first game of the season) for the Canucks in ‘99-00.
Verdict: Nine starts as a rookie and no wins in Canucks. Will Demko even lose nine games in his career as a Canuck??
*19. Dunc Wilson (1970-71). Lucky Dunc Wilson got the honour of playing behind the expansion Canucks in 1970-71. After one career start with the Flyers the season before (a loss), Wilson tied Charlie Hodge with 35 games played for the expansion Canucks. Wilson won his fourth start for the team, but posted an abysmal 3-25-3 record overall. He played two more seasons for the Canucks (96 games, 29-51-8 record) before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 1973-74 season.
Verdict: Poor Dunc never had a chance.
18. Ed Dyck (1971-72). Another goalie who fell victim to playing behind a mediocre Canucks squad. Dyck made his NHL debut as a 21-year-old in the ‘71-72 season, where he played 12 games for the Canucks. He lost his first three starts before earning his first win in appearance #4. Dyck played three seasons with the Canucks before bolting to the WHA in ‘74-75, finishing his NHL career with an 8-28-5 record.
Verdict: Poor Ed never had a chance.
17. Cory Schneider (2008-09). One of the Canucks best goaltenders of all-time despite his short tenure in Vancouver, but Cory Schneider’s career didn’t start off with a bang. He lost his first two starts before beating the Minnesota Wild in a 2-1 win on December 5th, 2008, on a game-winning goal from Canuck legend Jason Jaffrey.
Verdict: Do I get a prize for the Jason Jaffrey reference?
16. Troy Gamble (1987-89). Troy Gamble’s NHL career began with one game, a loss during the 1986-87 season. He didn’t see the NHL again until the 1988-98 campaign, where he won his next two starts. Gamble went on to spend two more seasons with the Canucks before he was out of the NHL, in ‘90-91.
Verdict: Mediocre debut, but great name.
15. Bruce Bullock (1972-73). Bruce Bullock played all 16 of his career games with the Canucks, with 14 coming in the 1972-73 season. His first two games were ties, followed by two losses, before he finally picked up his first career win. Bullock posted a 3-8-3 mark in his 14 career starts.
Verdict: Remember when ties in hockey were a thing?
14. Ken Lockett (1974-75). Ken Lockett’s NHL career was short, spanning only two seasons and 55 games, all with the Vancouver Canucks. He was a part of the first ever Canucks team to reach the playoffs as a back-up to Gary “Suitcase” Smith, but he did lose his first career start, and finished his career with a 13-15-8 mark.
Verdict: Does Lockett win a prize for “first backup to start a playoff game for the Canucks?”
13. Glen Hanlon (1977-78). Most of Hanlon’s success came outside of Vancouver, but he did spend parts of five seasons with the Canucks. His first start was a loss to the Flyers despite a valiant effort, in a 3-2 defeat against one of the league’s best teams that year.
Verdict: Tip of the hat for Hanlon, who battled the Broad Street Bullies in his NHL debut.
*12. Rick Heinz (1981-82). Played 13 games with St. Louis, but was still considered a rookie when he arrived in Vancouver. Heinz lost his first start with the Canucks, but won his next two and only starts before returning to St. Louis the following season.
Verdict: One of few goaltenders to escape the ‘80s with a winning record in Canucks colours...
11. Ken Ellacott (1982-83). If Ken Ellacott is remember for anything, it’s that he’s the only Canucks goalie to amass more ties than wins or losses in his rookie season (12 games played, 2 wins, 3 losses, 4 ties).
Verdict: Rewriting the Canucks record books in the most mediocre way possible.
10. Wendell Young (1985-86). The Halifax native actually didn’t lose until his fourth start with the Canucks. Young tied with the Washington Capitals in his first career start on December 7th, 1985, and proceeded to beat the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets in his next two starts. It was tough slugging for Young after that. He went 2-9-2 the rest of the way in ‘85-86.
Verdict: Say what you want about the shootout, I’m glad ties aren’t a thing anymore.
Close But No Thatcher
*9. Corey Hirsch (1995-96). The Canucks current colour commentator for Sportsnet 650 played his first four career games with the New York Rangers in 1992-93, going 1-2-1 for the Blueshirts. However, he didn’t make it in the NHL until three years later, during the 1995-96 season.
Playing with Kirk McLean, Hirsch won his first start for the Canucks in a crazy 7-6 win over the San Jose Sharks. But, you know what happens in his second start for the Canucks right? Hirsch and the Canucks fell to the Edmonton Oilers 6-4 during his next start. His rookie campaign was one of the better ones for Canucks netminders, as he finished with a 17-14-6 record.
Verdict: Too bad the beginning of Hirsch’s career coincided with the Canucks’ late ‘90s downfall.
*8. Kirk McLean (1987-88). Captain Kirk didn’t begin his career in Vancouver, after playing six games for the team who drafted him, the New Jersey Devils. However, he was basically thrust into a starting role in Vancouver during the ‘87-88 season, when he led Canucks netminders with 41 games played. It was a rough one for McLean and the Canucks, but his career in Vancouver did begin with a win.
Greg Adams scored four goals and the Canucks beat the St. Louis Blues 8-2 to start the season, giving McLean his first win as a Canuck, and his third win in five career starts. However, he lost his next start in a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. McLean finished his first full NHL season with an 11-27-3 record.
Verdict: Patience in Captain Kirk paid off, even if it took a few seasons.
7. Alex Auld (2001-03). Ironically enough, Alex Auld was considered a rookie for three seasons. Auld played one game in ‘01-02, seven in ‘02-03, and six regular season games in ‘03-04. He was eliminated from the “two wins in first two games” conversation after two relief appearances, but did come close to winning his first two career starts.
Auld won his first start in ‘01-02 against Ed Belfour and the Dallas Stars. He then played in two relief appearances the following season. His second career start came against Belfour, once again, and the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 15th, 2003. Auld allowed only one goal, but Belfour bested him in a 1-0 shutout win over the Canucks.
Verdict: Facing Belfour twice in your first two career starts? No easy task.
6. Dave McLelland (1972-73). The unknown Penticton, B.C. came relatively close to being the first goalie in Canucks history to win their first two games. McLelland started two games at the end of another lost season for the Canucks. He won his first start against the Los Angeles Kings, but lost against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the last game of the season. The Canucks acquired Gary “Suitcase” Smith prior to the ‘73-74 campaign, and McLelland never played another NHL game.
Verdict: This is probably the only throwback rankings that McLelland will ever make, after 120 career minutes of NHL hockey.
5. Eddie Lack (2013-14). Unfortunately for Eddie Lack, his likability couldn’t propel him into Canucks history. After an injury-riddled career in the minors, Lack made his NHL debut for the John Tortorella-led Canucks on October 6th, 2013. Lack led the Canucks to a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames that night. Two weeks later, he got his second NHL start against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lack stopped 26 of 28 shots, but the Canucks lost 3-1 as R.J. Umberger potted the game-winning goal.
Verdict: Worth mentioning that Eddie Lack does hold one record, most shutouts by a rookie Canucks netminder (4).
4. Mike Fountain (1996-97). In arguably one of the best rookie debuts in team history, Mike Fountain stopped all 40 shots he faced in a shutout win against the New Jersey Devils. He couldn’t recapture that magic in his second career start, when he was pulled after allowing five goals on 17 shots against the Montreal Canadiens.
Verdict: Shutting out the Eastern Conference’s best team (at the time) to start your career is incredibly impressive. Too bad he won only one other game in his brief NHL career.
Lost on a “Technicality”
*3. Curt Ridley (1975-76). With one of the most underrated masks in Canucks history, Curt Ridley did what Thatcher Demko did, winning his first two starts as a Canuck. However, he’s elminated from the “winning your first two games” discussion after playing his first two NHL games for the New York Rangers the season prior. He finished the ‘75-76 with a 6-0-2 record, but went 17-38-12 over his next two seasons in Vancouver.
Verdict: His career overall wasn’t inspiring, but Ridley’s record of eight straight starts without losing will be a hard record to beat. Not only that, but his hot streak at the end of the season helped solidify the Canucks’ second consecutive playoff berth.
2. Frank Caprice (1983-84). The one goalie who should hold the “wins to start a career record” above Demko, but doesn’t based on playing 17 minutes in relief for the Canucks during the 1981-82 season.
Largely known as Richard Brodeur’s backup, Frank Caprice spent six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. He currently holds the record with three wins to start his career in Canucks colours, an impressive feat considering he was thrust into six straight starts as a 21-year-old following an injury to Brodeur.
Verdict: While Demko’s “record” was startling at first, he’s really only ahead of Caprice based on 17 minutes of relief hockey.
Demko Reigns Supreme, But What’s Next?
1. Thatcher Demko (2018-19)
Despite the technicalities, Demko’s start to his NHL career is among the best all-time for Canucks rookie netminders. That notion becomes even more incredible when you consider the Canucks rookie goalies who began their career elsewhere, and realize that none other than Ridley and Caprice won their first two career starts.
Even though Caprice and Ridley do deserve some recognition, the truth is that Demko has had the best start among Canucks rookie netminders in 35 years. With all due respect to Caprice and Ridley, those two were career backups who had hot starts. That puts them in a much different conversation than Thatcher Demko.
We’ve seen a few rookie goaltenders recently start off their NHL careers hot. Comox, B.C. native Adin Hill just won his first four career starts. Jordan Binnington won his first three career starts, and Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers won his first two career starts as well. Rookie goaltenders can make an impact, and Demko has the potential to continue being prominent despite his lack of NHL experience.
Verdict: Let’s end this throwback by saying that the future is incredibly bright for Demko. If his trajectory goes accordingly, he might break a few more records before his Canuck career is finished. Now, just imagine what he could do with a defence in front of him.