It was over a decade ago that Devon Levi became fascinated with computer science as a student at the Hebrew Foundation School in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec. His father Laurent was a software engineer by trade and the world of coding and artificial intelligence seemed to have limitless potential.
And when Levi transferred from the Hebrew Foundation School to West Island College, a secular private school with a vibrant Jewish population, he fell even more in love with computer science, so much so that he decided to make it his major when he settled in Boston enrolled at Northeastern University.
“I thought this would be a really good opportunity to exercise my brain a bit and see if I can figure it out,” Levi said.
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But being one of the hottest goaltenders in North America, Levi’s had to train almost every other part of his body on the hockey rink for the past few winters while mastering such high-tech wizardry in the classroom.
“There is a bug in your code and you need to figure out what the problem is in order to make it run more efficiently – same thing [with hockey]’ Levi said. “There could be little hiccups in your game, a few bugs in your game that you want to fix so you can be more efficient, or you could play a little better, or play a little smarter, or just have a little more energy.”
There haven’t been many hiccups or mistakes in Levi’s goalkeeping throughout his glittering career. Last year, the Quebec native sophomore led Northeastern to their first-ever Hockey East regular-season championship with his school record 10 shutouts — a particularly notable feat given that he missed a mid-season month to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics – won the Mike Richter Award for the nation’s top goaltender and was named national rookie of the year by the Hockey Coaches Association (he had to sit out his entire freshman year after sustaining a rib injury while helping Team Canada at the juniors World Championship 2021 to win silver.)
This winter, Levi, whose NHL rights belong to the Buffalo Sabers after being traded from the Florida Panthers, and the Northeastern Huskies moved .500. Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe still calls Levi “the best goaltender in the country,” but even Levi can’t deny that his performance, at least on paper, is a modest decline from last year.
“It’s been a great season — a lot of adversity,” Levi said. “You have to love it. You have to love highs and lows.”
The first week of 2023 included both. On New Year’s Day against Harvard, Levi suffered one of his worst personal defeats when the Crimson blitzed him for eight goals in an 8-4 return. But less than a week later against the University of Connecticut Huskies at old-fashioned Fenway Park in the “Frozen Fenway” marquee showdown of the season, Levi was masterful again, stopping 28 of 29 shot attempts as Northeastern rolled to a potentially season-changing 4-1 win.
“Everyone always says that he [Levi] is the best goaltender in the country for a reason,” said left winger Aidan McDonough, Northeastern’s top attacking player, after Levi’s comeback. “He just works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. You saw some hard bounces last weekend [against Harvard]. He’s first in the gym, first on the rink, and he’ll be right back on Monday. We weren’t surprised to see him play like that. He played for us so many times. It was nice to see that he regained some confidence.”
Keefe supports this notion.
“We have all the faith in the world in Levi,” said the Northeastern coach. “He [Levi] knows how to react, and if anything, he’s watched it [performance against Harvard] like, hey, that’s part of the development, that’s good for me to go through.
Playing for Northeastern University isn’t just about playing at Fenway Park, the same ballfield that once graced Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, as Levi noted, “it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was one of the coolest games we’ve ever played. I felt like we were part of something bigger than just this game. We created a memory that will last a lifetime”; but also at the famous Beanpot tournament in Boston every February and the NCAA tournament for which Northeastern qualified last season. And it also means balancing a full course load while enrolled in one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the country. And there are not many courses that are more time-consuming than computer science.
“It was definitely challenging being a student-athlete in this program, but I think it’s made me a better time manager, a better problem solver, and a better person,” Levi noted.
In the coming months he must make a decision that will surely have legions of Northeastern Huskies and Buffalo Sabers fans waiting: will he return for his senior year or will he start his pro career? Of course, like the overwhelming majority of college star athletes in his situation, he is noncommittal and content to let things go their way. But there’s little doubt he’ll don an NHL uniform one day, and while the computer science education was a solid choice, there’s not a machine learning or artificial intelligence project in the universe that could take his attention away from the rink.
“Playing is of course the No. 1 goal and nothing stands in the way of that. There is nothing else you would rather be doing.”