By Matty Wasserman

Northeastern’s superstar goaltender Devon Levi is officially headed to the 2022 Winter Olympics to play for Team Canada, Hockey Sense’s Chris Peters reported Thursday.

Levi’s season to date has rivaled not just any goalie in Northeastern history, but NCAA history. His .955 save percentage and nine shutouts this season lead the nation, and he has a realistic shot at contesting the NCAA single-season records for save percentage (.956) and shutouts (12). 

Levi’s averaging 27.85 saves per 60 minutes, substantially more than any of the other top goaltenders in the NCAA. Nayan Patel’s win shares model, which quantifies the number of wins individual players are responsible for, placed Levi at 2.93 win shares in the first semester, more than a half-win better than any other player – skater or goaltender – in the country. 

It doesn’t require fancy stats or hockey wizardry to quantify that Levi has been phenomenal this season, but it simply reinforces how vital he’s been to the success of the Huskies. His poise, anticipation, and lateral explosiveness make him a tantalizing player at the college level and beyond. He has a legitimate chance to be the first goalie to win the Hobey Baker Award since Ryan Miller’s 2001 season at Michigan State, and was placed on the Richter Award watch list, an award for the most outstanding NCAA goalie. 

Virtually every team-wide metric suggests the Huskies are due for significant regression in the second half of the season, particularly now that they’re without Levi for a stretch of conference play and the Beanpot. 

Take, for example, team-wide Corsi-for percentage. Corsi-for is a ratio of shots attempted to shots allowed, and serves as a strong predictor for future goal-scoring and allowing. The Huskies’ current Corsi-for percentage is 45.9%, which is 47th in the NCAA and worst in Hockey East. 

Perhaps even more illuminating to the Huskies’ success is it’s PDO of 105.43. PDO is a ratio of a team’s shot percentage to save percentage, with an exact-even ratio being 100. It’s used primarily to measure puck luck because shot percentage fluxuates and regresses so frequently, but also serves to highlight outliers in goaltending or shooting. This chart from Natan Patel’s site HockeyU Analytics demonstrates just how absurd Northeastern’s PDO is relative to the rest of the sport:

More than anything, this chart underscores the extent to which Levi’s goaltending has been off-the-charts (almost literally).

Northeastern can afford to be outshot substantially, and likely avoid this major regression altogether, because Levi is just that good. The tangible skillset and talent he possesses, combined with the quiet leadership and confidence he instills upon the lineup, makes him – and by extension Northeastern – viable to be a season-long outlier. 

However, it now comes with the caveat that Levi will likely miss six games because of his foray to the Olympics. As it currently stands, he will miss a home game at Vermont, both Beanpot games, a road game at UMass-Lowell, and a home-and-home weekend series with Boston College. Levi should return to Northeastern for the UConn series on Feb. 26, play the final five regular-season games, and the Hockey East tournament. 

Northeastern, like any other team, has its weaknesses. Those have largely been masked by Levi, and will continue to be when he’s in the lineup. But for this six-game stretch, head coach Jerry Keefe will have to resort to a backup option in net: either junior transfer Evan Fear, or freshman TJ Semtimphelter. 

Whether it stems from Keefe’s unrelenting confidence in Levi, the inexperience of Fear and Semptimphelter, or some of both, Keefe has played Levi every single minute of Northeastern’s season. Of the 59 Division I teams, UMass’s Matt Murray is the only other goalie to play all of his team’s minutes in net this season, and will square off with Levi this weekend. 

It’s made perfect sense for Keefe to ride behind Levi, including starting all three games in a four night stretch in early November. He’s proven he can handle the extended workload and remain as focused and poised as ever. However, the Huskies will now have to search for answers with two extremely inexperienced options thrown into the thick of league play.

Evan Fear appeared in six collegiate games over two seasons at Quinnipiac before transferring to Northeastern, but he’s never started a game at the collegiate level. Though he technically has a career 6.56 GAA and .774 save percentage, those stats are rendered virtually meaningless in an incredibly small 70 minute sample-size across six games. 

Fear served as a backup and mostly appeared at the end of either large wins or blowout losses for the Bobcats, so it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from his collegiate career thus far. The best stretch of his career was 2.13 GAA and .925 save percentage in 14 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League to close out the 2018-19 season.

TJ Semtimphelter was the final commit to Northeastern’s 2021 freshman class, and he boasts an impressive track record in the juniors. He played last season for the Boston Jr Bruins of the National Collegiate Development Conference, compiling a 2.05 GAA, .933 save percentage, and four shutouts in 30 games. 

For whomever Keefe and the Northeastern coaching staff elects to start, and both could presumably get a chance to play, it’s a huge opportunity to leave a mark as a future answer for the program. Levi has set the bar at ridiculously high level, but Fear and/or Semtimphelter will need to rise up and keep the Huskies afloat in the Pairwise rankings while Levi is in Beijing. 

Northeastern is currently ranked 16th in the Pairwise, placing them right on the bubble for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Yes, this team can win Hockey East’s auto-bid behind a hot goaltender (and Levi has been hot all season), but Northeastern cannot fall into a tailspin and leave itself little chance for an at-large berth upon Levi’s return – or even while he’s still here, with a vital series this weekend against UMass. 

The Huskies are far from the only team dealing with key losses to the Olympics. BU, BC, and Harvard are all losing top players, among other teams. However, Northeastern will have their work cut out for them in the final two months, and it’s time to prove they belong with the top teams in the country.

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