BUFFALO – In the moments following last Friday’s 3-2 win, goalie Devon Levi earned the eagle head, the award given to the Rochester Americans’ player of the game, and enjoyed a special moment with his new teammates.
Levi, 21, had performed dynamically in his AHL debut, making 40 saves against the Belleville Senators and stopping all four of their shootout attempts.
When he received the eagle head in the CAA Arena visiting dressing room, he put it on and raised his arms as players and coaches smiled.
“It was just really fun,” Levi said following Friday’s practice with the Sabres in KeyBank Center. “It was a fun weekend.”
Levi, who will likely start tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, his hometown team, played just twice for the Amerks. On Saturday in Belleville, he made 30 saves in a 4-2 loss.
By Tuesday, with goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen sick, the rookie was back in Buffalo.
When the Sabres assigned Levi, their opening night starter, to the Amerks on Nov. 28, it was unclear how long he would stay. Luukkonen had seized the No. 1 job and Eric Comrie had also outplayed Levi.
The Sabres wanted him to play regularly to buoy his development. Would he stay for a month? The rest of the season?
While his stint lasted just a week – he could return to Rochester when Luukkonen’s ready to play – Levi said it helped him find a “flow.” It showed Thursday in Boston, as he had a stellar 29-save outing in a 3-1 win over the Bruins.
“It was meant to be,” he said of being sent to Rochester. “I think it was great for me to be able to go there and play two games.”
VICTORY EAGLE DEVON LEVI 🦅 pic.twitter.com/T3onvsbebX
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) December 2, 2023
Sabres coach Don Granato said Levi’s assignment offered him an opportunity to take a step back and move out of the spotlight.
“When you arrive (in the AHL), you realize there’s lots guys in this situation with me, and you instantly have a camaraderie with a group that he knows,” he said. “He’s been with those players, he was with them through rookie camp, training camp. So it’s a chance to decompress, re-energize. It’s a resource, Rochester.”
The AHL introduced Levi to a different style of hockey. There’s less structure in the minors. In the NHL, he explained, players often don’t shoot until they have a strong scoring opportunity. Goalies can sit back and wait for something to happen.
“In the AHL, you know that there’s going to be so much chaos that you got to be on the ball and in the game,” he said. “You’re getting a lot of shots. … I knew I had to be dialed in and stay in the game right from the get-go.
“It’s a different type of adversity. To feel hot when you’re not getting as many shots is a little bit of a different challenge than to face 45 shots and win the game 3-2.”
Levi said the AHL experience took him back to his college career at Northeastern, where he had one of the greatest seasons ever by an NCAA goalie in 2021-22.
“(I) reconnected with that feel of the game, that playfulness, given an opportunity to dominate,” he said. “So … just feeling that energy inside helped me help my game.”
Levi also felt college vibes Thursday in TD Garden, where he gave himself a moment to look up at the 2023 Beanpot Cup championship banner hanging from the rafters.
He was at his best during last season’s tournament of Boston schools, allowing just six total goals as Northeastern won all three games, including the last two in a shootout.
“Just kind of look at (the banner) during warm-ups, just like enjoy the atmosphere and then when it’s time to play, it’s just like playing in any other rink,” he said. “So it just, I think, put me in a good mood, good head space, just good vibes in that building in the past. So I was just able to feel that and just play and have fun.”
Naturally, if Levi plays tonight, he said facing the Canadiens will be “a really special moment.”
“I’ve been dreaming of that moment since I was a little kid, growing up in Montreal, going to the building, hearing (the song) ‘Fix You’ as the team goes on the ice,” he said. “I got some buddies on that team, too, a lot of relationships.”
Goalie Cayden Primeau, who played at Northeastern before Levi, is expected to start for Montreal.