“He’s 35 years old, married with three kids.”
It’s not the most common of scouting reports, but Devon Levi isn’t the most common of goaltenders.
Wise beyond his 18 years, Levi turned his rookie season with the Carleton Place Canadians into a campaign for the ages, earning him the nod as Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) Player of the Year.
The Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., native is the first goaltender to win the award since Nic Renyard in 2015, and just the second since it was first awarded in 1989. He joins an elite list that includes past winners Paul Kariya (1992), Dany Heatley (1999), Kyle Turris (2007) and Cale Makar (2017).
“To be classified among players like that, it’s just unbelievable,” he says. “It’s something every player dreams about. To actually be able to do it is an awesome feeling. I’m happy that I’m on the path to fulfilling my dreams and I’m going to do everything I can to play in the NHL.”
After the season the Levi had, few would bet against him at this point.
He was lights-out from the first drop of the puck with the Canadians, posting 34 wins in 37 games, a 1.47 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and eight shutouts, all marks that led the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL).
His on-ice exploits earned him armfuls of awards – Levi’s trophy case now includes Most Valuable Player, Goaltender of the Year and Top Prospect honours from the CCHL, and Most Valuable Player, Top Goaltender and Top Rookie accolades from the CJHL.
That would make for an outstanding Junior A career for a player, let alone one season.
But for all the individual highlights, Levi – always with a team-first mentality – is quick to credit those who pulled on a Canadians jersey right beside him this season.
“None of my success would have been possible without my teammates,” he says. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to give my team the best chance of winning. These individual awards are nice, but at the end of the day, as long as I’m a good teammate, and giving my team support and confidence on the ice, that’s what I want to do.”
So, to what does Levi credit his success? The secret is … there is no secret.
“It comes down to how bad you want it and how much you love the game,” he says. “At the end of the day, if you love what you’re doing, you’re going to be willing to do anything to win and to keep playing. My love for the game and my enjoyment when I’m on the ice is extremely high. For a lot of people, it’s putting in extra work to stay after practice, but for me it’s just staying after practice to play more of the game that I love.”
A product of the Dollard Hockey Association, Levi wrapped up his minor hockey career with a three-year stint with the Lions du Lac St-Louis of the Ligue de hockey midget AAA du Québec (LHMAAAQ), earning a spot on the LHMAAAQ First All-Star Team in each of his final two seasons, and taking home the Trophée Ken-Dryden as the league’s top goalie prospect and Trophée Patrick-Roy as defensive playoff MVP in 2018-19.
The confidence from his last Midget (now U18) season came with him to Carleton Place; Levi won his first nine starts and allowed no more than two goals in any of them, including a five-game run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 1 where he allowed just two goals total.
Once again, it was just as much what he did off the ice as what he did on it that endeared him to his team.
“He gained a lot of respect very, very quickly within our room and within our leadership group with just how caring he was and how good of a teammate he was,” says Jason Clarke, the Canadians’ head coach and general manager. “He got off to a really quick start and obviously did a very good job. Sometimes that can go to people’s heads, but it was the exact opposite.”
The red-hot start led to a roster spot with Team Canada East at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C., where very few – maybe Levi, Clarke and a handful of family and friends – could have foreseen the performance the netminder turned in.
An up-and-down preliminary round included 30 saves in an overtime loss to Russia and 29 to help East to only its second win ever over Team Canada West, but he allowed 11 goals in just five periods of work in losses to the United States and the Czech Republic. Turns out he was saving his best for when it mattered most.
In a semifinal showdown with the defending champion Americans, Levi was almost unbeatable; he stopped 41 of the 42 shots he faced through 70 minutes of regulation and overtime and turned aside all four U.S. attempts in the shootout to clinch a 2-1 upset win.
A day later, he allowed just two goals on 41 shots in more than 85 minutes of work as East dropped a 2-1 double-overtime heartbreaker to Russia in the gold medal game.
For his efforts, particularly in the playoff round, Levi was named tournament MVP.
“That tournament was the experience of my life,” he says. “Being a huge underdog and going against the U.S. in the semifinals, I just felt like we were meant to be there and we were meant to beat them. All the hard work that I have put into the game, it was all meant to be shown in that game. Coming out of [the tournament], I felt like it brought my game to a new level, which gave me a lot of confidence going back to Carleton Place.”
Levi finished the regular season on a 13-1-1 run (only allowing more than two goals twice in that span) and was set to lead the Canadians – who finished the year 49-7-6 and ranked fourth in the 131-team CJHL – into the CCHL playoffs when the season was cancelled March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That was a huge heartbreaker for us,” Levi says of missing out on a chance to chase a national title. “We felt like we had the team to make it all the way, or to have a good shot at it. That was our goal – to win playoffs, win [the Centennial Cup], make it all the way. To have that taken away from us, it hit us hard.”
So with his Junior A career prematurely over, Levi is set to take his “every year is a new year, and every game is a new game” mentality to the next level.
He committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Northeastern University shortly after the World Junior A Challenge concluded, and is the eighth-ranked North American goaltender for the 2020 NHL Draft, whenever it is held.
But whatever the next challenge is, his coach wants to make sure he doesn’t change a thing.
“He just needs to continue to be Devon Levi,” Clarke says. “He needs to continue to do the things that he’s doing. If there is anyone who is going to take the NCAA by storm next year and really do some special things, I’d bet my mortgage on Devon Levi. He’s just too mature of a kid, is way too determined and has too much internal fortitude to let himself down, let his teammates down and not be successful.”