20240511 Levi

ROCHESTER – Devon Levi was asked to reflect upon what his time with the Rochester Americans meant to him in the aftermath of their Game 5 loss to the Syracuse Crunch on Friday.

Levi didn’t suit up for a game with Rochester until December and didn’t join the Amerks on a regular basis until January. But the four-plus months he spent with the team were enough to leave a lasting impression.

“It’s been great,” Levi said. “I’ve learned so much about myself, about my teammates, about the game, being a pro. It was a pleasure being here, with all my heart. It was an unbelievable segment of my life playing here.”

The Amerks lost 5-2 in front of a sellout crowd at Blue Cross Arena in the deciding game of their North Division Semifinal series with the Crunch. The loss ended their playoff run and, with it, the rookie season of their 22-year-old goaltender.

Levi came to Rochester with few expectations other than an attitude to embrace his surroundings and do his job. His season had begun in the NHL, where he was part of a three-man goalie tandem alongside Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Eric Comrie.

What he found in Rochester was a group on the precipice of a special run, which he was able to accelerate. The Amerks – teetering on the edge of the playoff race when Levi joined the group – earned points in 29 of their last 38 games dating back to mid-January. That included a 13-2-1 mark in their last 16 contests to finish as the second seed in the competitive North Division.

Levi went 16-6-4 with a .927 save percentage, the best mark in the AHL among qualified goaltenders, and was one of several young contributors to the Amerks’ success. Second-year forwards Isak Rosen and Jiri Kulich – two first-round picks by the Sabres – led Rochester in points and goals, respectively. Rookie defensemen Ryan Johnson and Nikitia Novikov were lineup regulars.

Combine those players with a group of veteran prospects in forwards Linus Weissbach, Brett Murray, Brandon Biro, and Lukas Rousek along with a leadership group headed by third-year captain Michael Mersch, and it made for a special mix on and off the ice.

“It was one of the most fun teams I’ve had to play for,” Levi said. “It was just an unbelievable chapter. I came in with more of a professional mindset, like coming in, do my job, just focus on my game and giving the team the best chance. But I think it became more than that. It became more, you know, do it for the guys in front of you and that bond, I think a lot of us share love for each other.”

The Amerks entered the playoffs intent on building on their playoff experience from a year ago, with most of their roster having been a part of the run that ended with a Game 6 loss to Hershey in the Eastern Conference Final.

They packed a playoff’s worth of memories into one five-game series – the last-second, game-winning save by Levi in Game 1; his 60-save performance in Game 3; the never-say-die, three-goal comeback that preceded Murray’s overtime winner in Game 4. They fell short in Game 5 – a one-goal game until the final five minutes – but within that failure lies an opportunity, coach Seth Appert said.

“I believe that, success or failure, experiences you go through help define you and shape you if you’re willing to learn from them or grow from them,” Appert said. “Quite frankly, it sucks, but adversity usually fuels the most growth, and that is the secret sauce of development – as a human, not just as a hockey player.

“You go through hard things and you go through miserable things, you go through failures, and you look in the mirror and you decide to attack areas that you have to improve to grow from experiences you went through. And that’s what these young guys need to do. Some of them had great playoffs, some of them didn’t play as good as they’d like. They need to use that to learn and to motivate them, to drive them to go attack things in the offseason to make themselves better hockey players.”

Levi, still dealing with the sting of a season that ended too soon, expressed his gratitude for the experience as a whole.

“I wouldn’t give it up for anything,” he said.