Photo: Denver Pioneers
Adjusting to college hockey can be tough.
Slava Demin has made the transition look rather seamless however.
The freshman defenseman from Cypress, California has been a key cog in Denver’s blue line thus far, and while he makes things look easy on the back end, he says things don’t come easy at the Division-1 level.
“I think the toughest part has been going out and playing 100 percent,” Demin said. “Guys are older, stronger. You have to play every shift with the mentality of making a difference. I have to make sure I’m consistent, with every shift, every game. I have to make sure I don’t take a shift or a game off.”
Growing up on the west coast, Demin says that the growth of hockey there really started when a couple Stanley Cups were won by teams in California.
“Hockey wasn’t very big when I started out when I was 2 or 3 years old,” Demin said. “Not many people in California knew what hockey was. Then it really started to take off when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, then they started to put more money into the program when the Kings won the cup twice. It has grown a lot in California with the three professional teams. They’ve done a great job at growing the game there, and it’s really taken off, which is good to see.”
Demin says he believes that starting in a non-traditional hockey market took some of the expectation off of him at an early age.
“I think it helps a little bit because you don’t get as much recognition,” Demin said. “You really can focus on the game without having the pressure by being a big prospect. You’re playing for fun and the love of the game grows. It’s nice, and it shows that kids from non-traditional markets can be as good as guys from traditional markets.”
Learning how to improve is something that Demin has embraced in his transition to college.
“For me, the most important thing is you can always get better at something,” Demin said. “Off the ice, I’m always going over video or talking to the coaching staff on what I can work on. It’s been a big help for me to implement that input into my game on the ice.”
Getting a chance to learn from teammate and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell is something that Demin doesn’t take for granted.
“He’s been a great role model for me for sure,” Demin said. “He’s a guy who works his hardest both on and off the ice, and on all facets of his game. He’s been great to talk to and learn from. You don’t really even have to talk to him to learn something. He leads by example, and I’m very lucky that he’s around.”
Drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the fourth round in this past draft, Demin says Vegas has a special connection for him.
“It was special just to get drafted by anyone, it’s something that you dream about your whole life,” Demin said. “Vegas is a place I’ve been to a lot. I played tournaments there when I was a kid, I’m familiar with the city. They just came into the league and went to the cup final, so it’s really cool to be a part of that, and get a chance someday to put on that jersey and help that team win. That’s the most exciting part for me.
Coached by the youngest head coach in Division I hockey in David Carle, Demin says he clicked with Carle from the get-go, even after former head coach Jim Montgomery left to coach in Dallas for the Stars.
“A big part of my recruiting was Monty,” Demin said. “He coached a lot of players that went on to the NHL. After my initial verbal commitment however, DC was around a lot and went to a lot of my games. I became comfortable with him pretty quickly. He’s a great hockey mind, and that has been Important with all the turnover we have had. We’ve had a lot of success this year, it shows how smart he is and how much he knows about the game.”
The turnover has been huge for the team, as has the development of the team’s freshmen who have been key in helping the Pioneers earn a 19-8-5 record and the No. 6 ranking in the country.
“Coming into this year, not many people knew how good we would be,” Demin said. “As a freshman class, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. Over the course though of the last 30 games, and we only have four games left in the regular season, we have a chance to win it all. That’s what we are thinking about right now.”
If Demin and the rest of the Pioneers continue to improve and play good hockey, they could find themselves in a good position to do just that.
Demin currently has 13 points in 32 games thus far this season.