By Matty Wasserman

One-hundred seven years before Devon Levi ever set foot in Matthews Arena, a young Princeton forward named Hobey Baker delivered one of the most legendary performances in the barn’s history. In 1914, at what was then called Boston Arena, legend has it Baker played every second of a 73-minute overtime victory against Harvard, refusing to rest or substitute for even a single shift.

No, Levi was never quite asked to shoulder the load Baker was on that famed day in 1914.

But at times it sure felt like it.

Levi has been the dynamo behind Northeastern’s success all season. He started three games in a four night span in November, and played both ends of a back-to-back after not seeing game-action for a month while in Beijing. He saved 60 shots in a single game, and once halted three one-on-zero rushes in a 25-minute stretch. He posted a program-record 10 shutouts this season, including four in games Northeastern was outshot. And when the Huskies did outshoot their opponent, Levi delivered a perfect 10-0 record. 

Through the highs and lows — and granted there weren’t too many lows – Levi maintained that unmistakable, unfailable confidence in net. For his friendly, charismatic, and team-first mentality that shines through off the ice, there was a focused, poised, and driven monster between the pipes every night for Northeastern.

“Dev, for my money, is the best goalie in college hockey,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe after Northeastern’s Feb. 26 victory at UConn. 

It’s a line that has been repeated verbatim by Keefe all season, and one that rings true watching Levi work wonders on a nightly basis. Despite his 6-foot frame, his agility and lateral movement patrolling the crease is breathtaking. His anticipation, awareness, and puck-tracking would be astounding for any goaltender, let alone a 20-year-old playing his first season of college hockey.

And Levi has every requisite counting stat to back up to those lofty assertions that Keefe, and anyone else who’s followed his magical season, could see with their own eyes.

Levi’s .953 save percentage is second-best in the country, and his 1.45 goals against average is the NCAA’s third-best mark. His 29.68 saves per 60 minutes mark skies above the other top netminders in college hockey – further indicative of the workload and high shot volume he faced on a nightly basis.

And the most outlandish stat is Levi’s .941 shorthanded save percentage. That’s higher than all but three NCAA goaltenders’ total save percentage, and is a driving force behind the Huskies’ third-best penalty kill in the nation.

Where the NCAA’s other top goaltenders, namely Quinnipiac’s Yaniv Perets and Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay, fall short of Levi’s statistical body of work is in the shot volume they’ve faced. Though McKay’s 1.28 GAA is slightly better than Levi’s 1.45 GAA mark, the pressure applied to McKay has been substantially less – McKay only averages 17.66 saves per 60 minutes, far fewer than Levi’s 29.68 mark. Perets, whose .955 save percentage is the only mark in the country above Levi’s, has made just 420 saves this season – half of Levi’s 839 saves.

It’s not that Perets and McKay should be punished for having fewer shots put on their net. Rather, the high shot volume and shot intensity Levi faced all season further demonstrates just how much Northeastern relied on him, particularly late in the first semester when the Huskies battled an array of injuries that hampered the lineup.

Levi’s .953 save percentage, should it hold through the postseason, would be the third highest single-season mark since at least the 1999-2000 season, when the NCAA goaltending database dates back to. Levi will join college legends and future NHL stars like Maine’s Jimmy Howard, UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, and Michigan State’s Ryan Miller atop the NCAA historical leaderboards.

Levi’s brilliant 2021-22 season places him in prime position to win the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender. Even despite missing seven games to play in the Olympics for Team Canada, Levi’s dominant year should still supersede the cases of Perets and McKay, each of whom still had terrific seasons in their own right. 

But let’s take it a step further. Could Levi move beyond goalie-specific awards and recognition, and actually win the Hobey Baker Award for the NCAA’s most valuable player?

History says the answer is likely no. Since the award’s inception in 1981, just two goalies have won the award — Minnesota’s Robb Stauber in 1988, and Miller in 2001. But in comparing Miller’s sophomore season in 2001, widely considered the gold standard for NCAA goaltending, to Levi’s 2021-22 campaign, it paints a remarkably similar picture. Granted, Levi still has the entire playoff stretch ahead of him and will face stiff competition in the coming weeks. Miller’s Michigan State team went all the way to the Frozen Four in 2002.

Just like an NHL goaltender must climb immense hurdles to capture the Hart Trophy, an NCAA goalie has to perform so far above and beyond their perceived positional limitations to even be considered for college hockey’s most prestigious individual award. But Levi has done exactly that for Northeastern, delivering a remarkable season that rivals the greatest goaltender runs in recent NCAA history.

Of course, Levi’s seven games lost to the Olympics make his Hobey Baker case substantially more difficult. Before leaving for Beijing, Levi had started every game for the Huskies, with no signs of slowing down. While freshman TJ Semptimphelter filled in remarkably well for Levi, there’s no doubt Levi excelling in the high-profile Beanpot matchups and racking up more wins, saves, and potentially shutouts throughout February would’ve strengthened his case nationally.

But better than any description, statistics, or historical comparisons, the best way to articulate Devon Levi’s season in net is to see it for yourself. Here are three of my favorite Levi saves this season, and why each is symbolic of his season-long brilliance.

Maine, Oct. 30

One of Levi’s most acrobatic saves of the season, he somehow rotated to his left to rob Maine’s Brad Morriessy of a surefire score. By late October, almost a month into Levi’s rookie campaign, it was already abundantly clear that his CCHL and 2021 World Juniors performances were no fluke. Devon Levi was a uniquely gifted talent in net. There are few goalies at the college level who possess the awareness to sense Morrissey streaking in from the weak side, the anticipation and focus to track the deflection, and the pure athleticism to explode across the crease and deliver this highlight-reel save.

Boston University, Nov. 19

One of Levi’s most impressive games of the season, BU thoroughly dominated the injury-depleted Huskies at Agganis Arena, outshooting them 38-16 and commanding the offensive zone for the majority of game action. And yet, Levi shut out the Terriers en route to a remarkable 1-0 overtime victory. On this first-period save, Levi was left all alone with BU’s Brian Carrabes and closed down on him with seeming ease, leaving Carrabes no space to wrap the puck around Levi’s right pad or elevate the backhand over him. This save is symbolic of Levi’s incredible poise, agility, and quickness when being attacked in space. Notice how light he is on his toes, retreating into his stance and timing the play with incredible precision, all while keeping his eyes locked on Carrabes. Levi makes this save look incredibly easy, because he had the puck tracked the whole way and didn’t use excess body motion. While perhaps not his most acrobatic save, it was a terrific play and indicative of how he utilizes his incredible awareness, preparation, and timing to stifle opponents on the rush and deny them opportunities in space. 

UConn, Feb. 26

One of Levi’s more recent highlight saves, this cross-crease kicksave was the perfect display of his remarkable athleticism and lightning-quick recovery time. UConn’s Jonny Evans had seemingly out-waited Levi and had him dead-to-rights, yet Levi somehow collapsed the empty space in front of the goal and rotated his left blocker in front of Evans’ shot from point-blank range. As Levi has displayed time and time again, even when he looks beat, you can never count him out until the puck is in the back of the net.

While those three saves were particularly memorable for me, there are countless examples from Levi’s season which encapsulate his nightly brilliance. Every single night, you wondered what breathtaking performance #1 had in store. 

Perhaps Levi won’t win the Hobey Baker Award. The obstacles, whether it be the inherent difficulty of a goaltender winning an MVP award, his games missed at the Olympics, or the strength of competitors like Denver’s Bobby Brink, Michigan Tech’s Brian Halonen, or many other top skaters, will be too much to overcome. 

But no matter the final outcome of the individual awards, Levi has dominated this season like most goaltenders can only dream of. Whatever the future brings for Levi, both he and Northeastern will always share this magical, brilliant season together. 

And as the Huskies approach the Hockey East tournament and make a late-season push for an NCAA tournament bid, there’s one thing Northeastern can be sure of: the best goalie in college hockey is on their side.