Devon Levi and Yaniv Perets Differing Paths Both Led to Success
Montreal goalies will share the stage during the Richter Award ceremony.
The question isn’t entirely off the tongue before a wry smile or a smirk forms on the intended’s face. It doesn’t matter if the question is for a teammate or the coach; sometimes, there’s a chuckle. They can sense where the inquiry is going. “What do you think about Devon’s routine during the media timeouts?”
“He’s a goalie that’s for sure,” says defenseman Jordan Harris, a senior co-captain for the Northeastern Huskies.
“Devon’s Devon, and he’s going to do his thing,” adds Julian Kislin, a fellow blueliner, and senior co-captain.
The prevailing thought is that goalies are odd. You have to be to have a vulcanized rubber puck shot at you repeatedly at speeds of 80 M.P.H
When you are carrying a stat line with ten shutouts, a .950 something Goals Against Average, and allowing slightly more than a goal a game, and add to that mix being an Olympian, you can do just about anything on the ice and get away with it. That’s what Devon Levi has done all season long for the Huskies as they won their first-ever Hockey East regular-season championship.
“When you kneel during the timeouts on the ice, what is that? Are you Buddhist? Are you Zen? What is that about?” (laughter)
“I’ve been asked this question a lot,” interjects sophomore Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. “I don’t even know the answer! I’ve been asked by other people.”
“So, that period is just a reset,” says Levi. “In my mind, the period is played in four increments of five minutes. We get a break every five minutes, so that break is just an opportunity to recenter, get my body to breathe, refocus, and attack the next five minutes.”
The ice crew skates out with their shovels and barrels to scoop away the built-up snow. The goalie takes a circuitous loop between the two circles and plants himself on his knees, and faces the crowd in a meditative position. At the same time, his teammates confer with the coaching staff, and the ice crew whizzes by, cleaning the excess snow. It can lead to a “what the…?” moment. Levi kneels facing the goal, motionless, as the crew members skate to and fro. His teammates gather at the bench to listen to head coach Jerry Keefe; Levi resets his mind and focuses on the task. He keeps the puck out of his net and gives the Huskies a chance to win the game.
Matthews Arena is the oldest ice hockey arena in the world. It harkens back to when goalies had no masks, men wore top hats, and people smoked in the stands. Those stands, the second level of which hangs over the playing surface, make for one of college hockey’s raucous student sections, the Dog House. Watching Levi kneeling before the fans in the Dog House is quite a scene.
As Levi, a 6’0″ sophomore, was taking the Hockey East by storm in Boston, 120 miles or so southwest in Hamden, Connecticut, another goalie was turning heads in ECAC Hockey action. Quinnipiac Bobcats freshman Yaniv Perets was putting together an equally impressive season. The 6′-1″ Perets carried a goals-against average below a goal a game for the season.
“Goalies, they are interesting,” said Quinnipiac forward Wyatt Bongiovanni. “It’s somewhat of a different sport. They’re an individual back there. It’s a mental game, and I have tremendous respect for Yaniv and how he carries himself on and off the ice.”
“He works on the mental game, he meditates, he does things that he believes will make him great and they’ve shown through this year. He has tremendous habits, he has the will to be great, and that’s a credit to his success.”
“He’s been unbelievable,” added Bongiovanni. “He’s been the backbone of our club. He comes to the rink every day. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s ready to get better.”
“I remember meeting with him and loved his commitment to getting better, he had a plan,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold of Perets. “I can’t remember how many years he was committed before he came, but he really was thoughtful and organized on how he was going to get better with his game in season and out of season. That was what impressed me the most.”
The Company You Keep
Together the two make up two-thirds of the finalists for the Mike Richter Award. It is an imposing trio in contention this year. Levi boasts a 21-10-1 record with an NCAA leading .952 save percentage. His 1.536 goals-against average is third-best overall. Perets carries a 22-5-2 record, has the best goals-against average at 1.173, a single-season record, and is second with his .939 save percentage. Perets was below a goal a game in his goals-against average until facing high-powered offenses in the ECAC and NCAA tournaments. Harvard in the ECAC Final, a 4-3 O.T. loss followed by a 5-4 win over St. Cloud St. 5-4 in the opening round of the Allentown Regional. Perets gave up four goals to Michigan in 40 minutes of play in the regional final, a 7-4 loss to end the Bobcats’ season.
The third member of the Richter Award triumvirate is also a Hobey Baker Award Finalist, Minnesota St. Mavericks senior Dryden McKay. McKay backstopped the Mavericks to a 37-5 record and is riding a 17 game winning streak; his 1.277 GAA is second, and his .934 save percentage is third. He has ten shutouts this season, tied with Levi for the second most. Perets is first on 11. McKay is the NCAA all-time leader in shutouts with 26, including a 1-0 shutout of Notre Dame in the Albany Regional final to punch the Mavericks ticket to their second straight Frozen Four.
There are 60 Men’s Ice Hockey teams at the NCAA Division I level. Three goalies per school. Some schools have four, putting the number of goalies vying for playing time at roughly 200. On Friday, April 8, 2022, the top three netminders in college hockey will share the stage at the Encore Boston Harbor Casino for the presentation of the Mike Richter Awardfor the most outstanding goaltender in 2021-22.
Levi was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Hockey East Goalie of the Year, Hockey East Player of the Year runner-up this past season, and a First Team Hockey East All-Star. Perets, a freshman on the Bobcats, was equally honored as the ECAC Player of the Year and the ECAC Goalie of the Year. Perets also was named ECAC First Team All-League. Both made the top-ten finalist list for the Hobey Baker Award.
McKay will be joining them on stage that night as well. He garnered CCHA Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, and All CCHA 1st Team honors. McKay has the single-season wins record for goalies at 37 and counting.
That shows the company that two kids from the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux are keeping during their incredible seasons. Yes, that’s right, they are from the same town. They are from the same city, but they were also teammates and continue to be best friends.
Perets is the older of the two, who played together in alternating years, first on the Dollard-des-Ormeaux Versant Quest Peewee squad in 2012-13 and then on the Lac St.-Louis Lions Bantams in 2014-15.
They don’t compete against each other. If one records a shutout on Friday, the other doesn’t think about trying to match it on Saturday.
There’s no friendly competition between the two. Levi and Perets sincerely want the other to achieve success and be the best that he can be.
“We’re two good buddies who push each other and love talking hockey and love looking for ways to improve,” said Perets of his friendship with Levi. “We were goalie partners growing up and family friends, we live right by each other, we’ll go work out at the gym together. We skate on ice together. We do other stuff together as well. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s always good to have someone like a great goalie like himself and an even better person.”
“Someone who could compete with you,” added the 22-year-old Perets of Levi. “Also, someone who wants you to be the best. I want to see him do the best he can and vice versa. So it’s nice to have that competitive nature, but you also want each other to do well.”
“It’s different between goalies,” said Levi when asked about one-upping each other. “I don’t try to one-up him and he doesn’t try to one-up me. We’re kind of in it together. We’re playing the same position. As a goalie, you don’t play against the goalie on the other team. It’s kind of an individual sport you’re playing against yourself. You’re playing against the shooter, against the puck. We’ve just been helping each other, learning off each other, and riding this journey together.”
They faced each other for the first time on October 9, 2021, when Perets Bobcats downed Levi’s Huskies 3-0 during the Ice Breaker Tournament at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA.
“That was cool,” said Levi, voice rising in excitement. “I definitely wanted to win and I know he definitely wanted to win too, so there still was some competition there. But I want the best for him and I know that he wants the best for me. That’s the kind of relationship we have.”
That would be the same building that Levi’s season for the ages would close out during the NCAA regionals. On March 25, 2022, the Huskies lost to the Western Michigan Broncos 2-1 in overtime. Levi turned back 34 of 36 shots. The lone blemish was a misplayed puck behind the Huskies’ net by Levi that led to Luke Grainger’s O.T. winner for the Broncos.
Levi went to clear the puck early in overtime, but Grainger pinned the puck against the boards and then beat Levi to the far post on a wrap-around bid. It initially appeared that Levi made the highlight-reel stop on Grainger as he gloved the puck with his blocker but upon review, the puck, and the blocker, were beyond the goal line ending the Huskies’ season.
The Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux boasts a population of roughly 48,000 people. It’s Montreal, Canada, so yes, it’s hockey-obsessed.
“It’s a pretty nice town. They’re good at organized sports,” Perets said of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. “I didn’t grow up there right away. I was born more towards the city. I’m pretty fortunate that my parents were able to move to Dollard right before I was able to start playing hockey. So if it wasn’t for the move, I don’t believe I’d be here today The other neighborhoods and organized sports weren’t as well as theirs.”
“On the West Island, you also have a Lac St. Louis Lions with a great organization. And I was very fortunate to play for them. So many other good great hockey players playing N.H.L. right now played for the Lions, they always push and it’s like a really competitive atmosphere. I think it’s helped me out a lot. I’m very fortunate to grow up where I did and have the opportunity to play hockey there.”
“It’s a small suburb of Montreal. The hockey community is pretty big,” said Levi of the D.D.O. as it’s colloquially called. “All my friends growing up from there played hockey. I never thought that we would be one of the few to keep playing and to pursue NCAA and hopefully pro hockey later on.”
Northeastern freshman Justin Hryckowian has been friends with and played with both goalies for some time now.
“Those two guys are great people, more than great goalies,” said Hryckowian. “They do their job and they’re also the best people off the ice. I’m so happy for them.”
“When they need a shooter, I’m the first one they call,” joked Hryckowian.
“It was my first time playing against him,” said Hryckowian of facing Perets in October. “It’s pretty crazy. Think about it, how many guys from the same midget program are all on the ice? We have a couple of guys on our team and then Yaniv on the other side.” Aside from Hryckowian, Huskies defenseman Jeremie Bucheler also skated with the goalies.
“It’s great to see a bunch of guys all from the same area, work hard to get to where they always dreamed of playing,” added Hryckowian.
“They’ve both been amazing throughout their whole careers, and they’ve put in a ton of work, and they deserve to be where they are now. This year, they’re going head to head, so it is pretty crazy. It’s a great accomplishment for both of them, and everyone back home is cheering them on.”
“No, they’re not like that at all,” said Hryckowian when asked if the two bust each other’s chops. “They’re great friends. They’ve always rooted for each other. Many people try to mention to the other guy that the other guy’s doing good, and they always have a good response for the other guy. They’re cheering for one another and pushing each other to get better. That’s all it is.”
“He was playing for the Junior Bruins,” said Bill Riga, current head coach of the Holy Cross Crusaders, but was an assistant with Quinnipiac at Peret’s recruiting. “I have relations there and they let me know that they had a good goalie that came in from Brockville and I should come to watch him.”
“I went and just did an evaluation, I’m not a goaltender coach, so I didn’t get into the X’s and O’s of it all,” added Riga. “I just noticed that he was very composed and calm, athletic, confident, and just looked like he had a plan, for how he was going about making saves.”
“I just had confidence that he was going to continue to improve. And he had the temperament that I enjoyed watching, as a goaltender I’d like to see,” Riga said.
“We’ve kind of been looked over, like under the radar,” said Levi of the route the two took to get to where they are today. “I got invited, thankfully, to the World Juniors and that was during my first year here at Northeastern. I didn’t play that year because I was injured but going into Northeastern that year, no one really knew my play and no one knew who I was or what I was capable of.”
“I believed that I was able to play at the college level, and I was just working hard to prove it,” said Levi. “But I was kind of in the same boat as him (Perets) coming in. No one really knew me and I was lucky that coach Madigan, (former N.U. head coach and current AD Jim Madigan) who was the head coach here that recruited me, he believed in me and brought me in and I think the World Juniors was to help myself believe that other people believe what I’m capable of.”
“I was lucky to have that opportunity to showcase myself at the national level,” said Levi of his time with Team Canada for the World Juniors last year. “I know if Yaniv were given that opportunity also, he would have taken it, grabbed it, and proved himself. His first opportunity was this year, his first full year in college, so that’s how he made a name for himself. I knew he’d take it and he’d run with it. So mine came half a year earlier than his but needless to say, we’re both in the same boat, and we both grew up with the same mindset, and that’s kind of what made us.”
“Yeah from age five to eight, I think we crossed paths playing,” said Levi. “We had never met each other and then in peewee, we played together for the first time and we were goalie partners. I remember on that team we were the two smallest guys on the team there are pictures of us and we look like we’re half the age of everyone else because we’re just little guys and we had some bigger guys on our team.”
“Ever since that year, we’ve been pretty close buddies. We played some summer hockey together,” added Levi. “Our families are also pretty close, they talk all the time. I know growing up, I also used some of his gear. He always got the new gear. I always wanted to try out his gear, he’d lend it to me, and then I’d use it the year he was done with it. I think I did that twice.”
“We started carpooling to practices because we live near each other,” added Perets. “We’d have family dinners.”
Here’s to hoping that dinner on Friday will be a celebration of two great, young netminders from Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
Yaniv Perets photos appear courtesy of Quinnipiac University Athletics Department.