By: Daniel Vazzoler
The Carleton Place Canadians have their second Canadian Junior Hockey League MVP recipient as Devon Levi earned the honours in the 2019-20 season.
Along with being named the national Jr A MVP, Levi also received the CJHL’s Top Goaltender and Top Rookie awards. At the league level, the CCHL awarded Levi the Top Goaltender, Top Prospect and Top Goaltender honours.
“Getting classified amongst some very high looked-at athletes, some of the best in the world, it’s definitely an honour,” said Levi of being named CJHL MVP. “It’s crazy to think about. There’s so many players in the CJHL, and so many really good players that could have won this award and I’m truly honoured they chose me.”
Levi’s numbers back up the awards he won. As a first-year junior player, he amassed a 34-2-1 record, a 1.47 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and eight shutouts – all of which substantially led the CCHL.
However, he is quick to pass the attention to his Canadians team-mates rather than take all of the credit.
“It is an individual award but I’d like to think of it as a team award, that the team was MVP because this isn’t just a one-person award. You can’t win this alone.”
It didn’t take long for the Canadians players to realize how good Levi was and could be this past season.
Brett Thorne, who won CCHL Top Defenceman and was a national finalist for the same honour, said he recognized it in the first game.
“This guy is going to be the best goaltender I ever played with and I could probably tell that in the first two periods I saw him play,” Thorne said. “I was not wrong and I think anyone who’s seen him play would say they were wrong either.”
Jason Clarke got a first-hand look at Levi during his College Hockey Combine two years ago and nearly committed to him then.
“We obviously knew he had talent but a year of development in midget and working with his coach Marco Raymond, then being able to come into our environment and putting the work in with our strength and conditioning coach Chris Burgess and his goalie coach Matt Dopud. His attention to detail and work ethic was at another level than I’ve seen in this franchise,” he said.
It was during his time with the Lac St-Louis Lions where Levi said he developed the on-ice ability as well as the mental fortitude to handle the rigors of a Jr A season.
“I played as a 14-year-old in midget AAA in Quebec and I was an underdog. I was two years younger than the average player in that league and it’s so easy for a 14-year-old to be scared and to feel like he isn’t good enough to play with older guys,” Levi said. “I’ve always had a mentality over never giving up and always dominating regardless of the circumstances.”
Levi did just that for his three seasons of midget AAA, where he said he learned how to play with high expectations and the pressure to perform as one of the older players on the team.
It’s safe to say Levi exceeded his expectations and likely those the team placed on him coming into the season. Even as a rookie, though, Levi said he still thought he could contribute to the Canadians’ success – just maybe not to the heights he reached.
“I did know that, coming in as a Carleton Place Canadian, that I was coming to a good organization, that it was a good team and I knew I was going to have success,” he said. “I knew I would contribute the part of my game and help the team win. I definitely didn’t know exactly how the season was going to go but I believed in myself and I was confident that I was going to have a strong season. Having that mentality coming in to play as a Canadian really helped along the way.”
Levi started the season strong, but both he and Clarke point to an exhibition game against the Oswego State Lakers, perennially one of the top NCAA Division-III schools in men’s hockey, as a turning point where Levi took his game to another level.
“He was having a pretty decent start to the season, a good month and a half when we went down to play the number one ranked team in Division-III and he got lit up,” Clarke said. “It wasn’t a very good game for him and he just looked very average.”
Levi added the game showed him and his team-mates there was room for improvement despite what was, for him, an undefeated start to the season.
“After that game, regardless of the outcome, I was able to learn from it and understand that I’m not where I want to be yet and I still have a long way to go,” he continued. “After that game, I was never satisfied with anything that I did. Whether it was a shut-out or a good performance, I was not satisfied because I look back at that Oswego game and picture myself being put in again and (ask myself) ‘am I ready to completely dominate that game.’”
Levi had a chance to build up his confidence when he was a member of Team Canada East at the World Jr A Challenge, backstopping his team to a silver medal after falling to the Russians 2-1 in double over-time.
For his efforts, Levi received Tournament MVP honours.
He said being able to take that team to the finals against the best Jr A players in the world gave him the belief he could steal games for the Canadians when he returned for the stretch run of the regular season and added to his confidence.
As Levi expressed, his MVP award was buoyed by the support from his team-mates and coaching staff. Canadians captain Elliott McDermott won the CCHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Award as well as the Academic Player of the Year Award. His success off the ice translated to success on the ice as well, earning him an invite to the Toronto Maple Leafs development camp this upcoming summer.
“Getting invited to an NHL Development camp is a pretty special thing to have happen coming out of a Tier 2 Jr A franchise,” Clarke said.
Clarke had his efforts appreciated by the league, winning CCHL Coach of the Year and CCHL GM of the Year while also being a national finalist for Coach of the Year.
“It’s always nice when the guys you’re competing with, your colleagues, vote for you and think you’re doing a good job,” he said about the accolades. “Anytime you earn your colleagues respect, it’s always a good day.”
Thorne was the third Canadian to receive national recognition for his performance this season, being named a CJHL finalist for Defenceman of the Year after winning the award in the CCHL.
His play on the ice more than warranted the recognition – setting Canadians records in goals, assists and points by a defenceman both in a single season and during a career – but it was a season that almost didn’t happen for Thorne.
Thorne was slated to join the University of Alaska-Anchorage for the 2019-20 season but opted for a change of heart and returned to Carleton Place for his final season of junior eligibility.
“I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason and you just have to go with the flow there. That was a choice I decided to make for some personal reasons and it couldn’t have ended up better for me,” Thorne said. “I came back and had probably the best season I’ve ever had personally.”
Clarke kept in touch with Thorne during the summer leading up to this past season and discussed the possibility of him returning to the Canadians. Despite the school losing one of its recruits for the upcoming season, Clarke also praised them for the way the coaches handled the situation.
“You’ve got to give kudos to Mark Phallon, the assistant coach, and how he helped through the process of making this decision. Alaska-Anchorage treated myself and Brett Thorne first-class right from the get-go of Brett not being sure of what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. They made the process a little bit easier, even though it was a hard decision for Brett to make.”
The return to Carleton Place paid off in spades for Thorne as he tallied 27 goals and 74 points (44 of them coming on the power play) and earned a scholarship to Michigan Tech beginning in the 2020-21 season.
The post-season accolades are nice and a reflection of the success the team and the individuals had, but also raise questions about what could have been. The Canadians never got the puck dropped on their 2020 post-season and just allow the players to imagine how they would have performed during the playoffs.
“It left a real bad taste in our mouths,” Levi expressed. “We felt like we had an amazing chance to win our league and go fight for a national championship. That was the goal and dream ‘Clarkie’ set in our heads since day one and that’s what really got us going the whole year. We were just playing for playoffs.”
“You could probably ask any team and they’d say that they could have seen us going far just because of our depth and our goaltending,” Thorne added. “Playoffs are a different beast, but it would have been nice to see, and fun to see, where our team could have ended up.”