Last March when I interviewed then RMU senior and goaltending phenom Eric Levine ’13, he told me his dream was to one day play in the NHL. And now he’s one step closer to making that dream a reality.
This past summer Levine, a graduate of RMU’s psychology program, signed an amateur tryout contract with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch. The former Colonials goaltender, who had an average save percentage of .921 and a goals-against average of 2.89 at RMU, helped the Crunch reach the Calder Cup finals before eventually losing to the Grand Rapids Griffin. But his time with the team served as a valuable learning experience.
“My two months in Syracuse were extremely beneficial because I got a taste of what professional hockey was like,” he says. “Seeing how hard they prepared for practice and games taught me a lot. And being on the ice with such talented players really raised my level of play.”
While there, Levine got to work with Tampa Bay goalie coach Frantz Jean on a daily basis. “It was simply amazing. He taught me a lot about what it takes to be a professional goalie and the type of work you have to put into the little details of the game in order to be successful.”
Less than a week after his time with the Crunch ended, Levine received a call to attend the New York Rangers development camp. “I got the call Saturday night and flew out Sunday morning,” he says. “That’s how quickly things happen in professional hockey.” In New York he scrimmaged with the team for four straight days and even got a chance to work with goalie coach Benoit Allaire. “He showed me a few things about my game I needed to work on in order to make the jump from college to pro. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think I did pretty well.”
After returning home to Chicago, Levine was promoted to assistant director of the Midwest Goalie School, overseeing their four camps that run for just over a month, five days a week, nine hours a day. “It’s a good thing I enjoy being at ice rinks,” he says, “because I spent an awful lot of time there.”
He was then invited to participate in training camp for the Nashville Predators. “That was a life-changing experience that taught me a lot about my game,” says Levine. “Any and every weakness you have as a goalie is exposed at the NHL level. They’re all so unbelievably talented. Even the so-called ‘fourth liners’ have skill and can shoot the puck harder than I have ever seen.”
While in Nashville, Levine was on a team with Predators’ goaltender Pekka Rinne. “Getting a chance to watch him and how he practices taught me a lot. He is easily the most talented and hardest working goalie I have been on the ice with, not to mention the nicest guy imaginable. He would spend time after practice answering my hundreds of questions about everything it takes to be an NHL goalie. He’s an example of what I can accomplish if I just put in the hard work and never quit on my dreams.”
Levine also had the opportunity to work with Nashville goalie coach Mitch Korn, who he admits was a little tough on him. But that’s a good thing. “Coach Korn knows how difficult it is to be an NHL goalie, and he was trying to acclimate me to that level. For that I am eternally grateful.”
Even though he didn’t sign a contract with Nashville, Levine says it was a life-changing experience that gave him a taste of what might be possible with a little determination and hard work.
“I learned that pro hockey is a business, one that is very tough to crack, especially as an undrafted goalie because with so few spots available. It’s a numbers game. But my agent and I are confident something will materialize soon.”
Written by Valentine J. Brkich