By David Lisbona – Special to The Sports Rabbi
When I first asked that question about a month ago, I got a slew of answers depending on whom I asked. My 17-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, reviewed his social circles. My brother, Doctor Allan, sent me a picture of Devon and my nephew Jacob at a goalie camp. My old fraternity brother Gerald in B.C., who has a son who is an elite goaltender in Vancouver also has a friend who serves as an assistant coach for Team Canada and who said of Devon that he was the “real deal and an awesome kid”. I had to know more, so I continued to dig.
His rise has been nothing short of astonishing. He was not invited to Canada’s junior camp yet his play as MVP at the World Junior A Challenge last year prompted Team Canada’s brass to take another look. Prior to that, Levi toiled in Midget AAA for the Lac St-Louis Lions, the team that represents much of English Montreal.
Devon Levi attended Hebrew Foundation School followed by West Island College where he graduated as valedictorian in 2019. He is now studying and would like to eventually tend goal at Northeastern if Covid-19 will ever oblige. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers with the 212th selection in 7th round.
I must admit, I love these stories. There was no one who knew more about up-and-coming Canadian Jewish hockey players in the late 90’s than yours truly. Finding these gems was always a great challenge. I worked very closely with then head coach Jacques Demers in 1996 to assemble the team that would eventually go on to beat the Americans 6 to 2 to win the gold medal in a little piece of hockey heaven known as the Canada Centre on the Lebanese border in Metulla, Israel.
Now, I am not suggesting that Devon Levi sat defiantly at the front of a bus or that he helped end racial segregation in a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, but the significance of his achievement cannot be diminished as this was a major glass ceiling that has now been shattered, akin to that of Canadian Prime Minister, we continue to wait on that one. His rise to the top of Canadian Junior hockey will make it easier for others like him.
I hope Devon is eligible to play in the postponed 2022 Maccabiah Games, however, the irony is that he may be too good, his contractual obligations and an unwillingness for anyone to insure him may prevent him from guarding the Canadian net at next year’s Jewish Olympics.
In a year that has been fraught with unexpected surprises, it is refreshing to see Quebec’s most notable contribution to the Canadian National Junior Team as a Jewish kid from the West Island. The fact that it is a position that requires a head covering makes the irony that much more scrumptious. So as Canada gets back to what it does best around the birth of that most famous of Jews this Christmas, the Canadian Jewish community will sit up taller and bask in the glory that their goal is being tended by a native son. Diehard fans forever, hockey is etched in the lore of a Canadian Jewish life, heck even Montreal Passover seders are synonymous with playoff hockey. The only cup more coveted than that of Elijah belongs to Stanley. Devon Levi is proof that we can play the game too.
Levi may have a storied Hall of Fame NHL career or he may never play one game, but he has already achieved greatness and a place in this community’s story or at the very least a notation in the next edition of famous Canadian Jews.
In Jewish tradition, holding a position of great piety, one of the roles of a ‘levite” or ‘levi” is that of a guard, quite fitting then that Devon will be manning the cage for Team Canada in their quest for the holy grail of Junior hockey. Best of luck Devon Levi, the eyes of a nation and its Jewish Community are upon you.
David Lisbona is a former Manager of the inaugural 1997 Maccabi Canada ice hockey team; he is also a founder of the Canadian Friends of Israel Hockey and a director with Hockey without Borders.