Devon Levi’s unexpected emergence as Canada’s starting goaltender fits with an unusual 2021 world junior hockey championship.
Levi, from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., is just the third goalie in the last 40 years of Canadian junior teams to not come from one of the country’s three major junior leagues.
A Junior A star last season with the Carleton Place Canadians and a Northeastern University freshman this season, Levi wasn’t invited to Canada’s summer camp.
He spent more days isolating in a hotel room during selection camp than he did on the ice because two Canadian teammates tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
How Levi spent the 14 days alone in his hotel room is a window into his personality.
He says yoga, hand-eye co-ordination drills, visualization, video analysis and school homework more than filled the time between in-room workouts and team video meetings.
“I honestly packed my day to the point where I couldn’t get everything done,” Levi said.
That constant investment in himself helped elevate Levi to Canada’s starter, says his Carleton Place Canadians coach Jason Clarke.
‘He’s an undersized goaltender nobody knew about’
“The only way I can describe Devon Levi is like he’s married, 35 years old and has two kids, except he’s only 19,” Clarke told The Canadian Press on Monday.
“He’s just a very focused, mature individual who just wants to get better every day.
“He’s an undersized goaltender nobody knew about,” Clarke continued. “If you don’t have the internal fortitude, the discipline, the focus, investing time in yourself rather than spending time then I just don’t think you’re going to be able to get to the next level.”
Canada (2-0) faces Switzerland (0-2) on Tuesday in Pool A. All 10 participating teams are walled off from the general public and playing games in an empty Rogers Place because of the pandemic.
The six-foot 189-pound Levi was chosen in the seventh round (212th overall) by the Florida Panthers in October’s NHL entry draft.
He grew up idolizing Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who backstopped Canada to world junior gold in 2007.
Levi’s mentor since his draft day is another Canadian goaltending star, however.
He’s conversed with recently retired NHL veteran Roberto Luongo, who works in Florida’s goaltending department.
Levi was born two years after Luongo backstopped Canada to a silver medal at the 1999 world junior tournament in Winnipeg.
Luongo went on to win 489 of his 1,044 career NHL games and win an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2010.
“He’s talked to me multiple times,” Levi said. “The biggest message he told me that really stuck out to me was ‘enjoy the moment. There might be a lot of pressure, but you only get to live that pressure once and pressure is privilege.’ He said he looks back on his experiences at the world juniors to this day and enjoyed it like crazy.
“Talking to him is a huge honour, especially after everything he’s done in the NHL. It’s unbelievable to be able to talk to a guy like that and to get his input.”
Levi stood out during intrasquad games
In his one season of Junior A hockey, Levi was named the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s most valuable player.
He led Canada East to a silver medal and was named tournament MVP of the 2019 World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C.
But goaltenders from the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior leagues predominantly get chosen to play for Canada.
Levi joins college goalies Colton Point (2018), who is another Carleton Place Canadians product, and David LeNeveu (2003) as outliers over the last four decades.
Levi has yet to play a game for Northeastern because the pandemic delayed Hockey East’s collegiate season.
He was on Hockey Canada’s radar for summer camp, but wasn’t invited.
“It’s a tough evaluation watching a Junior A game and projecting what guys can do in the best junior tournament in the world,” Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said.
“We had the mindset that we’d have time when the season starts to see him play and go from there, and if we want to invite him at Christmas we can do so.
“But when the season got cancelled, now we were more in the mindset that if we really want to know what he can do, we need to invite him.”
Levi and other U.S. college players summoned to selection camp quarantined for 14 days upon return to Canada, and then went right back into isolation mid-camp because of the positive tests for the virus.
Levi stood out enough in what practices and intrasquad games there were — he posted a 36-save shutout the day before Canada’s roster was announced — to get the pre-tournament start against Russia.
He didn’t face a barrage of rubber in tournament wins over Germany and Slovakia. Levi maintained his concentration over quiet stretches in games to make athletic saves when needed.
He’s given up one even-strength goal on 27 shots.
“So far, he did not do anything to put a doubt in our heads that’s for sure,” Tourigny said.
Canadian winger Dylan Holloway will play Tuesday after sitting out Sunday’s 3-1 win over Slovakia with an upper-body injury.
Defenceman Braden Schneider returns to Canada’s lineup after serving a one-game suspension for checking a German forward in the head.