BUFFALO – Once, when Sabres rookie Devon Levi was 10, he visited a restaurant in Montreal and had some pictures taken with his idol, Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
Another time, Levi’s girlfriend spotted Price at a basketball game and handed him the phone. The netminders ended up chatting on FaceTime for a bit.
Then prior to Levi’s fifth NHL start on April 10, Price texted him some words of advice before the Sabres beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in Madison Square Garden.
Levi, 22, said he will cherish Price’s message forever.
“Just enjoy it, have fun, he wishes he was in my shoes again,” Levi recalled following Wednesday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “That was pretty special.”
Growing up in Montreal, Levi watched in awe as Price, who won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2014-15, grew into a Canadiens legend.
“He was so dominant, and he did it without looking like he was trying,” Levi said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s road game against the Canadiens. “That was the coolest part, I think. He was such a good goalie. I mean, growing up watching him definitely gave me a lot of inspiration.”
Tonight’s contest in Montreal holds extra special meaning for Levi. While he hasn’t been announced as the starter, he could earn his second consecutive nod.
“Being in that building will be really, really cool,” he said.
Levi has faced the Canadiens once in his 24-game career, a 3-2 shootout loss Dec. 9 in Buffalo.
During the morning skate and warm-ups, the youngster will give himself a moment to soak in his surroundings in the Bell Centre, one of hockey’s hallowed buildings.
His father, Laurent, would often tell him about the Canadiens’ storied history, and as a child, he found a replica of legendary goalie Ken Dryden’s iconic red and blue mask and wore it to play street hockey.
“There’s obviously a lot of history in that building, some really good hockey players have been playing there for a really long time,” Levi said. “So it’ll be really cool to be in that crease. A lot of really good goalies were there before me. So it’ll be special.”
If Levi looks up to the rafters, he will spot 15 retired numbers in honor of 18 players, including Dryden’s No. 29, and 24 Stanley Cup championship banners.
“But when the puck drops, it’s time to play, just like any other game,” Levi said.
Price’s No. 31 isn’t hanging yet. Right now, he’s on long-term injured reserve. He last played in 2021-22.
Less than a year into his career, Levi has proven he can thrive in hostile road environments. In addition to beating the Rangers last year, on Dec. 7, he made 31 saves in a 3-1 win against the Bruins, his first game in Boston since leaving Northeastern.
That game marked Levi’s first start following a brief assignment to the AHL.
A month ago Tuesday, he made the second of his two starts with the Rochester Americans. His first stint in the minors was expected to last more than a week. But when goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen became sick, the Sabres recalled Levi.
Since returning, Levi said “it’s been a little bit easier to have fun.” He has quickly re-established himself as the Sabres’ first option in net, and in eight games, he has compiled a 4-2-1 record with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
“Being sent to Rochester and playing there, understanding I had a great time there, takes a little pressure off,” Levi said last Thursday. “I do love the pressure and performing with it, but that pressure is only good if you’re having fun with it. At the beginning of the year, I was still learning how to take it on and enjoy it. I think going to Rochester, coming back, gave me perspective and I’ve really been having fun here and playing. …
“I’ve been coming to the rink excited to play. … That same feeling that I had in college, same feeling I had at the end of last year kind of sparked that again in Rochester.”
For the first time in the NHL, Levi, who started Sunday’s 5-1 road loss to the Ottawa Senators, is just one of two goalies on Buffalo’s roster. His recent emergence and the need to create roster space forced the Sabres to waive Eric Comrie on Sunday and assign him to Rochester.
Levi did not mind being one of three goalies.
“It was great having Coms around,” he said. “Really good guys in the locker room and I learned from him as well when he was in the crease. … I got my work in either way.”
Sabres coach Don Granato switched up his defense pairs during Wednesday’s practice, moving Henri Jokiharju alongside Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson, Dahlin’s regular partner, alongside Connor Clifton and rookie Ryan Johnson.
Meanwhile, Owen Power skated with Erik Johnson
“Just a different look,” Granato said. “I didn’t like Sammy and Dahls’ game the other day. Their effort was good, their compete was good. But there were moments I thought it slipped a little bit. But we just haven’t had many practice days, and to make use of it, you have an opportunity to try some different things.”
With captain Kyle Okposo week to week with a lower-body injury, Victor Olofsson and Eric Robinson took turns filling in at right wing alongside center Peyton Krebs and Zemgus Girgensons during Wednesday’s practice.