Rochester goalie Devon Levi stops a shot from Syracuse’s Devante Stephens on April 28. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

In grueling, high-stakes games, Sabres goalie prospect Devon Levi dazzles for Rochester Amerks

ROCHESTER – When the Syracuse Crunch increased its lead to a commanding 3-0 over the Americans on Saturday, goalie Devon Levi’s mind, only naturally, flashed to the summer.

The Amerks, after all, had to win Game 4 to stay alive in the best-of-five AHL North Division semifinal. They had scored just once in their previous seven periods.

Things probably felt bleak when they trailed by three goals after 40 minutes.

Of course, Levi, the Buffalo Sabres’ top goaltending prospect, wasn’t alone. Many of the rookie’s teammates might’ve felt their offseason could begin later that night.

“I was talking to the boys, like a lot of our minds during the game down 3-0 starts creeping to summer,” Levi said following Wednesday’s practice in Blue Cross Arena. “… You could feel it slipping away a little, but that’s when the mental training comes into play.”

Levi, 22, often talks about the emphasis he puts on developing his mental skills. Fresh off last Thursday’s 2-1 double-overtime loss, they came in handy Saturday.

“The mental battle was definitely prevalent,” he said. “The adversity that we had gone through the game before in double overtime, having to clear your mind from that and then to be down 3-0, those thoughts from the day before kind of come and creep back.

“But that’s the moment where you either fight or you either fold, and I think as a group we fought … really hard.”

If the Amerks could pull off an unlikely comeback to even the series at 2, in addition to scoring as many goals as they had in their previous nine periods, they had to hold the Crunch at three.

Most of that responsibility fell on Levi.

“Everything that I’ve worked on all year was for that moment to be able to shut the door,” he said.

Levi slammed it, stopping all 12 shots in the third period as the Amerks roared back to tie the contest and five more in overtime before winger Brett Murray scored to complete the miracle comeback victory and force Game 5 here Friday.

“That’s, for sure, one of my top memories playing hockey,” said Levi, who began the season as the Sabres’ starter and played 23 games for them. “The feeling of winning that game is unlike any other. Your season’s on the line.”

Murray’s goal completed an exhausting stretch of back-to-back overtime games in which Levi played 162 minutes of pressure-cooker hockey in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Last Thursday, he stopped a whopping 60 shots. On Saturday, he made 41 saves.

“It was nine periods of hockey under high-stress situations that he had to perform, and he was excellent in Game 3,” Amerks coach Seth Appert said. “And then in Game 4 … the key to the comeback was, No. 1, getting the first goal early. But the second thing was keeping this thing at three.

“If they get another one or two, it’s over. And so there’s a lot of pressure on him to help keep that at 3, and, obviously, he shut the door there and gave us a chance for the comeback.”

In those tight moments with no margin for error, Levi treated it like any other game, never getting too high or low.

“I would say there was no difference (in him),” Appert said. “He prepares every day like it’s the biggest day of the season. That’s just how he goes about his business. Takes care of himself off the ice. Spends a lot of time here taking care of his body. Spends a lot of time on the ice before and after practice working on his game.”

Levi’s ability to stay in the moment has helped buoy his success with the Amerks, a team he joined several times during the season. Appert said when Levi knew he could be promoted to the Sabres in the near future or if he had just returned from the NHL, his focus never wavered on his task in Rochester.

“Something he and I have talked about is being present, and that’s something he’s done really good here,” Appert said.

Levi said his goalie coach at home in Montreal, Marco Raimondo, has worked with him to develop the mindset he must treat every puck he faces with equal value, whether it’s in practice or a playoff game.

“That mentality of treating everything the same, regardless of the story behind the puck, is huge for me mentally,” Levi said. “I think that the story behind the shot doesn’t matter. It’s a shot. It’s the same in practice as a game regardless of what game it is in the playoffs or it’s the regular season, it doesn’t matter. It’s a shot.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *