Utica, N.Y. - Thatcher Demko returned to the ice last week after missing the first 18 games of the season due to concussion protocol.
The 22-year-old netminder sustained the head injury during Vancouver Canucks training camp in September. Both he and the organization made sure to take it slow, and not rush him in his recovery.
"You can play through a hurt wrist, knee or whatever it is," said Demko. "With a brain, you have to really take your time and make sure everything's good to go."
While he was out, the Comets struggled, coming into his season debut against the Laval Rocket last Wednesday on a four game losing streak and sitting in the basement of the North Division.
That, in Demko's words, was one of the hardest parts of the process.
"You just want to be out there," he said. "It's always tough watching. We lost a handful of games in a row. I knew I was really close to coming back, but making sure to take those extra couple of days to get to 100 percent was a little tough."
In his debut, Demko made 19 saves on 21 shots and helped the Comets win their first game in 11 days.
That was his first meaningful game action since Game 5 of the first round series in the Calder Cup Playoffs back on April 29. Finally, the long journey was complete.
"I didn't put too much pressure on myself and it was a tough road back," he said. "Being back on the ice was really nice."
On Saturday, he was between the pipes against the Belleville Senators for his second start, where he made 26 saves on 28 shots. The Comets won 4-2 and extended their winning streak to three straight.
"We're excited to have him back," said Comets head coach, Trent Cull. "We talked about him having to blow some rust off, but I think he’s come back and made some real solid saves for us when we needed him."
The bench boss had especially high praise for his game against the Sens.
"I thought he was really tested in our last game where we were tired, three in four playing against a fresh team," Cull said. "I thought he did a really good job down the stretch in that game."
Demko, himself, assessed his play over the first two games.
"I had some rust for sure," he said. "I felt like I could’ve done a couple of things differently on the goals that were scored, but I can’t hang myself up on that. I know I’m going to be a little bit rusty coming back, but I definitely feel like it’s a good place to start."