At 2 a.m. on 68 nights during the hockey season, Pavel and Lena Levin fire up their computer at home in Israel to watch a live stream of their son, David, playing hockey for the Sudbury Wolves.
They watch pretty much every game David plays in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and during their daily long-distance telephone calls, Pavel, a former high-end athlete himself, points out all the good things David did on the ice and suggests ways he can play even better.
For David, the daily contact with his parents gives him the moral support and encouragement he needs so far from home.
Born in Israel, Levin is living the Canadian dream, playing hockey at the highest level for his age and working toward his ultimate goal of making it in the NHL.
Now in his second year with the Wolves, he was a highly touted prospect who excelled with the Don Mills Flyers and who was selected first overall by Sudbury in the league’s priority draft.
What makes his story all the more remarkable is that Levin, 17, got his start in the hockey wars by playing the inline, roller blade version in Israel. He didn’t ice skate on a regular basis until he was 12, but his talent and desire to excel have vaulted him into a key role on an OHL roster, playing in a junior league that is heavily scouted by NHL teams.
He credits his family and the daily phone calls with giving him the fortitude to stick it out so far from home.
“I just know they have my back,” he said on the line from Sudbury. “It makes me more positive, with more energy.”
Playing in Sudbury, the league’s northernmost outpost, has proven an interesting experience, he said. His biggest adjustment was to the cold, but he’s gotten used to it.
Only a couple of weeks ago, Levin joined his teammates for an outdoor getaway and team building exercise that saw them enjoy ice fishing, roasting hot dogs around a campfire, riding snowmobiles and participating in other winter fun.
He liked it, he said. It was all good.
So far, he’s fit in well with his teammates, and the fans of Sudbury have accepted him, though he admits he’s received plenty of inquiries about his past, like “how did you get from Israel to here,” he recounted.
Levin said his dad hails from Riga, Latvia, and his mom is from Moscow. His father was an elite athlete in his day, and he now operates sports programs in Israel.
At a very young age, David was an accomplished roller hockey player. At age nine, perhaps 10, he joined a team of 14-year-olds at a tournament in Europe. Not only did he “play up” with older kids, he dominated the event, being named tournament MVP.
That was followed by more international successes and at age 11-1/2, he was one of the younger players on a team from Bat Yam that were Division B champions at the 35th annual BSR International Peewee Hockey Tournament in Lévis, Que., and which received plenty of attention because most of the players practised on roller blades.
People told his father that David’s talent should be further developed beyond what was available in Israel, so at 12, David moved to Toronto to live with his aunt and uncle and learn to play ice hockey.
He enrolled at The Hill Academy, a high performance school for athletes, and quickly climbed the highly competitive hockey ladder. At 15, he was playing on a top Ontario minor midget team, the Don Mills Flyers, and getting noticed for his slick playmaking and clever passing.
A star forward with the Flyers, he was picked by the Wolves after scoring 80 points in 55 games.
So far this season, in 52 games he’s registered 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points. In 47 games last year, his rookie season, he bulged the twine nine times and added 21 assists for 30 points.
A centre, Levin has played with a variety of linemates, but he seems to have developed chemistry with Dmitry Sokolov, an import from Omsk, Russia.
The two, who play on the team’s number 1 power play unit, are counted on to score goals.
Levin is happy with the progress he’s made this season, though he acknowledges he’s had to work on his skating and his defensive awareness.
“We have to be responsible defensively too,” he said. “Everyone knows we can score goals and make nice plays.”
Levin is finishing his last year of high school, and next season, he’ll be in his draft year. Like Auston Matthews before him, he missed the cutoff for an earlier draft by a narrow margin. Levin’s birth date is Sept. 16, only one day after the cutoff for kids born in 1999.
Oh well, if he has Matthews as a role model, he should do pretty well in the draft. He likely won’t be selected as high, but he’s got the slick Toronto centre beat when it comes to exotic home cities. Matthews hails from Phoenix and is the first guy from that town to play in the NHL. But if Levin makes it, he’ll be the first from Netanya, an even more unlikely location, to play in the NHL