In January while browsing DBTB I read a comment referencing the excellent season Devon Levi is having for Northeastern University. Since I live close to Boston and I enjoy watching in-person hockey at any level, and COVID restrictions are starting to relax around here, I thought I'd try to go see Levi play before the end of the season. After looking through the Northeastern schedule, I settled on the game at the Merrimack Warriors March 5. I asked my buddy who went to Northeastern and is also a hockey fan to go along, which he agreed to. Our wives surprised us by agreeing to go along (mine actually uttered the words "I like going to hockey games!", which I suppose I should have figured out by now, since in recent years she's agreed to accompany me to a Sabres/Canadiens game while we were on our anniversary trip to Montreal, a Beauts game when they played in Boston and a Providence Bruins game with her parents). My NU alum friend had the comment of the game before it even started, that the Warriors were going to be "shooting at the walls of heartache" trying to get the puck past Levi (80's music fans will get that one).
But enough background; on to the game and my observations on an intriguing Sabres prospect. Note that I am no expert on the fine points of goaltender play, just an average fan.
Levi didn't see a ton of quality scoring chances until about 12 minutes into the period, when he gloved two shots from the point 30 seconds apart to force faceoffs. My thought at the time was that he looked calm and confident with the glove and was seeing the puck well. After the second of those faceoffs NU couldn't clear the zone and a Merrimack player got a great feed to set up a one-timer from the slot, but Levi made a great pad save. His quick side-to-side movement and reaction time on that one was notable. Maybe four minutes later a Warrior sent one from the corner across the crease trying for the back-door tip-in, but Levi got a stick on the pass and deflected it over the boards, showing great awareness. Lastly, with 4 seconds left in the first, Merrimack had a great chance from the slot that he gloved.
Period 1 -- Devon Levi: 10 shots, 0 goals. Score: Northeastern 0, Merrimack 0.
Levi was defending the goal at the opposite end of the rink from our seats in this period, so it was harder for me to see his play, but I'll recollect as best I can. Merrimack had more consistent pressure on offense throughout the second than they had in the first. A few minutes in Levi had a nice save on a 2-on-1 that ended in a point-blank shot. He looked calm despite the odd-man rush, though he failed to control the rebound. From my vantage point it was hard to tell if he made any actual saves in the ensuing goal-mouth scramble, but the puck stayed out and with help from his defense he eventually covered it up. After that there were some more routine saves, then with about 5 minutes left another great one on a deflected point shot. He had to have a quick reaction and/or good positioning to stop that one that changed direction late. Soon after that there was another netfront scramble, again resulting in nothing getting past. Similar to the end of the first, with 20 seconds left NU allowed a 2-on-1 that forced Levi to make another point-blank save on a high-danger shot.
Period 2 -- Devon Levi: 11 shots, 0 goals. Score: Northeastern 0, Merrimack 0.
I'm sorry to say I fell down on the job for the third. We had made dinner reservations for after the game, which I thought would give us time to watch at least 10 minutes of the third, but Merrimack had a pregame ceremony for their senior players' final home regular season game which pushed the start back a ways, and we had to leave after the second-period final buzzer. During dinner the internet informed me that Northeastern ended up winning the game on a goal with 10 seconds remaining in the third, and that for Levi the period went like this:
Period 3 -- Devon Levi: 8 shots, 0 goals. Score: Northeastern 1, Merrimack 0.
Again, I know very little about goaltending technique, so take this with a grain of salt, but I thought Devon looked terrific. I understand that there's a big difference between saving shots from college players and the guys he'll face if he plays for the Amerks next year, but I was impressed with his calm during several scrambles, his awareness on cross-ice passes, and his quickness with the glove hand. At 6'0" he looked kind of small (especially compared to Warriors netminder Hugo Ollas, the 6'8" Rangers prospect), but that's not a deal-breaker as long as he continues to keep the puck out of the net. This was his tenth shutout of the season, two short of the NCAA record.
And apart from Levi, it was a lot of fun going to a college hockey game. The last time I went to one was probably 1987 when I was at SUNY Oswego, where going to the Great Lakers games was always a blast. The atmosphere last night reminded me of those games with the small rink and passionate fans. I regret not planning better so we could have seen that last-minute GWG, but hindsight's 20/20.
I found Levi's season stats here if you're interested in further reading.