As a former Little League catcher, I have a soft spot for goaltenders. They’re the ones who play 60 minutes in a grueling hockey game while everyone else plays 20 minutes or fewer. They may be stationary in terms of actual strides across the ice, but they make plenty of quick movements, up and down, side to side. An elite goaltender can take your team from a best-of-seven bowout in the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs to a Stanley Cup title. (Someone please tell that to Garth Snow, the general manager of my beloved yet eternally on-the-cusp New York Islanders.) In fact, if the Hockey Gods, wherever they may live—probably in Chicago in the last five years, at least—just renamed the sport “goalie,” I wouldn’t be opposed.
So it’s with that passion that I began my writing career by focusing on Boston College’s own netminders. But I didn’t realize that I would be delving into such dominance.
Last January, I wrote that BC women’s hockey goalie Katie Burt was on a path to become something special for this program. At 18, she had already appeared twice in Sports Illustrated, made the U.S. U-18 Team, and nearly led the Eagles to their first national title. She was Hockey East’s goaltending champion in her freshman campaign and a Second Team All-Star in the conference. I hinted that BC’s cheers of “Burt! Burt! Burt! Burt!” wouldn’t only become commonplace at Kelley Rink, but around the country. If I had known about the National Women’s Hockey League, I’d have probably brought that up, too.
In the fall, I guessed that Thatcher Demko’s season would resemble that of the classic Comeback Player of the Year story. Last season, Demko crushed Hockey East competition, suffering around a poor offensive Eagles team to will Jerry York’s crew into the NCAA tournament. He had a .925 save percentage, 2.19 goals against average, and 19-13-3 record in 35 games. This was all while playing with a torn labrum in each of his hips. Yet, now fully healthy, it was only a matter of time before Demko became a star.
I never expected this.
Each team’s electric offense—first in the country for the women, third for the men—have kept the Eagles atop the Hockey East standings for much of the season. But the two goaltenders have not only thrust each BC hockey team into their typical, playoff-contending modes even with games to play in the regular season. They have made BC a favorite, if not THE favorite, for the national title on both the men’s and women’s side. And it begs the question:
Are Thatcher Demko and Katie Burt having the best tandem goaltending season in Boston College hockey history?
Let’s dive into the record books.
First, we obviously must restrict this search to 1994-95 and beyond, given that that was women’s hockey’s first varsity season. Another rule: it has to be an equally great season from both goaltenders. Just because Scott Clemmensen dominated the scene in 2001 doesn’t mean we can count the season if Lisa Davis didn’t do the same.
A quick look tells me that there are only three women’s goalies we can consider: Alison Quandt, Molly Schaus, and Corinne Boyles. The three BC greats played from 2005-06 to 2013-14, meaning that we can limit our search on the male side to just four goalies: Cory Schneider, John Muse, Parker Milner, and Demko, in his rookie season.
We’re talking about some heavy hitters with these goaltenders. Schaus was a two-time All-American, two-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, and two-time U.S. Olympian. Schneider is now a Vezina Trophy candidate for the New Jersey Devils and was an All-American himself. Muse has two national championships and won the Walter Brown Award in 2011.
Yet to have two all-time legendary seasons at the same time is unheard of.
It’s hard to believe, given the great seasons goalies on both ends have had, but in the last 10 years, the only men’s goaltender to have a goals-against average under 2.00 per game in a single season was Milner in 2011-12 (1.66). Boyles, a sophomore, couldn’t match him, coming in at 2.15. As a junior and senior, she dominated opponents: 1.83 in 2012-13, 1.67 in 2013-14. Milner couldn’t live up to his junior campaign, allowing a full goal more per game. While Demko performed well in his freshman campaign, his 2.24 GAA only came in 24 games.
You can see the same story when it comes to save percentage. Milner’s 2011-12, when he stopped .937, hadn’t come close to being repeated by any of Muse, Schneider, or Demko before this season. Schaus and Boyles each had great senior years, when they each stopped 94.2 percent of the shots that came their way.
But each pale in comparison to the 2015-16 seasons by Burt and Demko. The goaltenders have already surpassed the program’s single-season shutout records. Including Sunday’s 3-0 win over Vermont, Burt has 13, two more than Schaus’ 11 in 2008-09. And with his 1-0 domination of Boston University in Monday’s Beanpot final, Demko overtook Schneider with his ninth of the season.
Demko now has a 1.80 GAA and .935 save percentage this season, again while playing all but two games this season. Those numbers are third and first, respectively, in the York Era. Burt has broken all those records already. Entering Monday, she had an unbelievable 1.14 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. Those totals are on pace to be the best all-time in program history for a single season.
Individually, they’d be great. But together, they’re unstoppable.
The only question is, can they keep it up? The statistics are flashy, but, as Demko would probably tell you, the only thing that makes a goalie good is if he can win a national championship. His first helmet back when he was a freshman showed the names of the four goaltenders who had won a title at BC: Bernie Burke (1949), Clemmensen (2001), Muse (2008 and 2010), and Milner (2012). To date, Demko has gotten as far as the 2014 Frozen Four, but has laid eggs in the Hockey East playoffs and in last year’s NCAA Tournament. And the path doesn’t get easier. Hockey East is tougher than it has been in many years, with BU, UMass Lowell, Providence, and Notre Dame all national title contenders. And several teams from outside the conference, such as North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Quinnipiac, have put up incredible seasons.
In her freshman campaign, Burt had trouble in the biggest game of the season. She set a single-season record for wins with 30 while losing only three. But those three were huge—the Beanpot final, the Hockey East final, and the national semifinal. Though she has proven she can win the big ones after Tuesday’s Beanpot final, she’ll have tougher competition lying ahead. No. 6 Northeastern, a team burned by the Eagles for three years now, is hungry to face them again in the Hockey East playoffs. Led by stout netminder Ann-Renee Desbiens, Wisconsin has only one loss. And defending champion Minnesota has reloaded again, thanks to the triumphant return of 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel.
But if they can get through those teams, this isn’t a debate anymore. It’s a definitive statement. So soak it all in, because any goaltending duo will be hard-pressed to beat Burt and Demko in 2015-16.
Except maybe Burt and Demko in 2016-17.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor