Eric Levine is a goaltender for the Indy Fuel, playing on assignment from the AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs. Levine, 28, originally hails from Wheeling, Illinois. He backstopped the Robert Morris University hockey team from the 2009-10 to 2012-13 seasons and in three of those seasons, he posted above a .920 save percentage. After college, Levine worked his way up the minor league ranks from the SPHL, to the CHL, ECHL and his current AHL contract. During that time, Levine has suited up for numerous teams, including appearances in three Indy Fuel games in the inaugural 2014-2015 season.
Levine has primarily served in a backup role, but has seen more ice time as of late and played his best hockey of the season. Levine was recently named ECHL Goaltender Of The Week for his 2-0 record and .958 save percentage and is currently riding a three-game win streak. He was also named the ECHL Goaltender Of The Week in December 2015 as a member of the Colorado Eagles.
Levine was kind enough to answer some questions for us here at Blue HQ and we hope you enjoy getting to know him.
BHQ: How old were you when you started playing hockey, and how did you first get involved in the sport?
EL: I began playing hockey at a really young age, 4 or 5. I remember moving into our first house as a kid, looking outside and seeing the neighborhood kids playing street hockey. My parents encouraged me to go out and ask if I could play too (they were mostly all older than me so I was pretty scared) and they gladly accepted with only one condition; I had to be the goalie because nobody else wanted to play. After getting pelted with street hockey balls, I came in crying and said I hated the game and I only wanted to be a forward. My dad told me I would impress them more if I went back out and stopped all their shots, which I did and I was the official street hockey goalie of the neighboorhood. Started playing ice hockey the next year and have been a goalie ever since
BHQ: What lead you to Robert Morris University, and how did your game evolve there? What are some of your fondest memories from college hockey?
EL: I was scouted by them while playing junior hockey for the Pembroke Lumberkings. It’s actually a funny story, but the first time they saw me play I wasn’t supposed to be in net, my goalie partner was but got sick and I ended up starting. I played a really solid game, and even then, RMU head coach Derek Schooley was only there to see the other team’s goalie play (Clark Saunders who is now on the Colorado Eagles) as he was with the Brockville Braves. Fortunate for me, he got pulled, and I happened to play really well, so they talked to me after, said they would see me play some more the following year. After my parents took my recruiting visit for me and said I would love the school, I jumped at their offer and committed right after Christmas my last year of juniors. It also worked out that the other goalie they had to come in with me failed to pass clearinghouse, so it was just me and their one returner for most of my career. I only got 40ish games my first 3 years, but played every game my senior season and had a great experience.
Easily my best memory at school was winning our inaugural 3 Rivers Classic Tournament at the Pen’s rink my senior season. I had the weekend of my life, stopping 99 of 99 shots and we beat Penn State 5-0 to advance to the championship game where we beat the #5 ranked Miami of Ohio 1-0. It was so enjoyable because I had a lot of family in attendance that don’t get to see me play often. That is the nicest rink I’ve ever played in by far. It was also during the year of the lockout, so NHL games hadn’t yet started and we had nearly 11,000 fans in the building and I’ll never forget the feeling when their anthem singer sung the National Anthem; I had goosebumps for 2 straight minutes and almost teared it up it was such a powerful moment. To top it all off, I was deathly ill that weekend and couldn’t get out of bed, I thought there was no chance I was playing so the games themselves were all kind of a blur, but it was the best weekend of my career there.
BHQ: After college, you have worked your way up the minor leagues. What are some things you have learned from those experiences?
EL: I’m proud to say that I’ve grinded it out harder than just about any goalie I know to earn my first AHL contract. I played for a lot of teams in the SPHL and ECHL, going through every tough situation a goalie can, getting released more than 10 times before I finally got my big break with Colorado last season that allowed me to sign with Rockford. The two biggest things I learned were this: 1.) Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t get you anywhere because the game of hockey owes you nothing. 2.) Work ethic and confidence are the two biggest assets that make a successful goalie and a huge reason I’m where I’m at. No matter the team I was on, I always work my tail off on and off the ice, and I also have an enormous amount of confidence in my game, no matter what anybody else tells me. I’m willing to listen to advice, but if somebody tells me I’m not good enough for their team, they’re missing out, not me.
BHQ: With ECHL teams providing housing for their players, does that encourage the team to spend time off together? What do you all do in your down time?
EL: Every ECHL team is required to provide housing and I think it’s great when everybody lives in the same general area. It makes you a lot closer to your teammates when you can cook meals together and just pop in to say hey and maybe watch some golf together!
I’m a big golfer, so a group of us here go golfing quite often, it’s the most enjoyable activity away from the rink. I’m also a business owner, so a lot of my spare time is devoted to that
BHQ: Which goalies, past or present, do you enjoy watching, and what do you try to take from their technique to add to your own? How would you describe your playing style?
EL: I’m a big Corey Crawford fan, I like everything about his game and the way he moves in the crease. He never gets the credit he deserves but he’s lights out year after year and is even better in the playoffs. Every year the Hawks have lost out of the playoffs, he’s been their best player. He’s got two cups of his own so that right there proves he can handle pressure and he can take that to his grave. I also admire his mental fortitude in that every time he struggles, he bounces back and raises his game, that’s not easy to do playing against the best players in the world.
Technically, I have adopted my stance over the years to look more and more like him. Coming out of college, I was too tall and upright, causing my lateral movement to be slower and I wasn’t getting to my spots quick enough for the pro game. If you look at Crow, he’s very low and has a wide base, keeps his hands out in front of him and is just a great blend of making a lot of saves look simple and easy while still being able to scramble and improvise to make the show stoppers. Other than that, I really like watching Carey Price, but he’s a freak of nature and it’s harder to replicate what he does, nobody in the world is as calm and cool as him, so I admire more than watch.
My playing style is very simple; I’m a blocker of the puck. I just want it to hit me and I try not to open up when I don’t have to. I’m very lanky, which helps to cover a lot of net in my butterfly, so I usually just try to get my angle which requires me to be a great skater on my feet and I like to be square and over top the puck, and that helps it hit me and stay in an area I can control it. I’m decently athletic so I’m not afraid of diving or stretching when need be, but if I can, I want the puck to just hit me and make every save look routine
BHQ: You appear to stay quite busy in the offseason, owning and operating Midwest Goalie School. What do you enjoy most about teaching the position to the next generation of goalies?
EL: There’s nothing more rewarding than working with a kid for a few years, and one day you see that lightbulb go off and they really grasp a part of their game that has a noticeable impact on their ability to stop the puck. When you see the kids that put the work in and battle get rewarded by making a team they were trying out for, or win a league championship, have a career season, there’s nothing better as a coach. I was lucky to be a student of Midwest Goalie School when I was a kid and had some pretty great coaches who helped mentor me throughout my career and I would be nowhere without them. I want to be that same mentor to my goalies, I want them to look back and think of me as somebody who helped them find a level in their game they never knew they had.
BHQ: What are some goals you have set for yourself, both long term and short term? Where do you see yourself in five years?
EL: I used to look at the game like that, but now, having gone through what I have, I’ve learned to take life one day at a time. I just want to win my start Saturday in Toledo and then I’ll sit down and see my options next year and what might be there for me. I just love the game so much and want to be playing and be productive at a high level. Maybe it’s one more year, maybe it’s five, but I want to feel like I left every ounce of effort I have on the ice when I do finally hang em up and begin coaching full time.
BHQ: How many times do you get the question, “Are you related to Adam Levine?”
EL: So much so that I usually tell people he’s my second or third cousin. Especially if I’m trying to get moved up for restaurant reservations or something, I’ll tell the hostess I can get her tickets to a concert haha.
BHQ: Finally, for fun, I’d like you to describe your mask for the fans and the meaning of how it is painted.
EL: My mask is a true dedication to one of the biggest influences in my life, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They are far and away my favorite band, and I’ve been listening to their music on game days and bus trips and car rides and anything hockey related for a long time now. I connect with their music on a deeper level than most other things in my life and I get taken to a different place when I hear their stuff.
They collectively have this vibe about them that can transcend the way you think about life and if you really listen, you hear each member of the band communicating about the same thing but in a different way. It’s amazing how they have such a powerful chemistry together but individually pour their heart and soul into every concert they do. Maybe I’m a little crazy, but they are so talented and have remained true to their roots for 30+ years, and that’s a rare thing in any profession. As they say, it’s never about money or fame or whatever, it’s about making the listener feel something they’ve never felt before, and that’s what I have with them. Plus, I saw them in concert for the first time this past summer and O.M.G. were they good. It was the greatest spectacle of a live performance of any kind I’ve seen.
The other parts of my mask include the word “namaste” on the back plate because I’m a big yogi in the summer and it has single handily extended my hockey career by at least 5 years with how it’s healed my body and mind. I also have a big hog on the side for the Rockford Ice Hogs whom I’m under contract with, and it has some hidden gems like the logo of the first travel team I played for growing up, a Midwest Goalie School tribute, the Chicago Flag, and two of Anthony Kiedes’ tattoos intertwined through the sides.
Here at Blue HQ, we want to thank Eric for an outstanding, thoughtful interview. We wish him the best as the Fuel wrap up their season and will always be huge fans of his. His work ethic, attitude and care for his students and fans are very apparent and we are glad he was a member of the Fuel this season. You can follow Levine on Twitter @knobsave, and be sure like/follow Midwest Goalie School on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his offseason schedule. Stay tuned to Blue HQ also, as we strive to bring you local, in-depth content on all things Indiana sports.