The good news is that two of Northeastern’s biggest ice hockey stars will be competing at the Olympic Games next month in Beijing.
The difficult news is that the Huskies’ nationally ranked teams must survive without the leadership of senior forward Alina Mueller, who will be playing for Switzerland, and sophomore Devon Levi, a goaltender for Canada.
The women’s team always figured that Mueller, 23, would be leaving for what will be her third Olympics. At 15 she scored the winning goal in the bronze-medal game at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, making her the youngest player to medal in women’s ice hockey.
In 2018, Mueller scored an Olympic-record four goals in one game while helping lead Switzerland to fifth place in South Korea.
The selection of Levi, 20, was finalized recently. He emerged as a surprise star one year ago at the World Junior Championships while leading Canada to the final. An injury prevented him from playing for Northeastern last season, but this year he is leading the NCAA with a .948 save percentage and nine shutouts, needing just 17 games to break the school record of six.
Levi becomes the first active men’s ice hockey player at Northeastern to represent his country at the Olympics—a result of the NHL’s refusal to participate in these Winter Games because of COVID-19 disruptions.
“I’m really proud of Devon,” says Northeastern men’s coach Jerry Keefe. “That’s a huge honor to get selected to play for Team Canada at the Olympics. I know our whole team is proud of him and we’ll miss him. But at the same time it’s a great opportunity for him.”
Levi left Northeastern on Monday to join his Canadian teammates. If Canada reaches the men’s gold-medal game on Feb. 20, Levi will miss five Hockey East games in addition to the Beanpot tournament (Feb. 7 and 14 at TD Garden).
The Huskies (16-7-1), No. 17 nationally in the PairWise Rankings, lost 6-0 at home on Saturday to the University of Massachusetts in their first game without Levi.
“We’ve got to be that much hungrier as a group without him, and some guys are going to get opportunities now,” says Keefe, who will be relying on backup goaltenders Evan Fear and TJ Semptimphelter. “Whoever’s in, we’ve got to make sure that we’re playing really good defense around him. If anything, it’s going to make us a better hockey team, so we’re all excited about the challenge in front of us.”
Mueller is tied with Maureen Murphy for the team lead with 29 points (8 goals and 21 assists) despite missing eight games for her Huskies (21-2-1), who have earned a No. 1 national ranking in the midst of a 20-game unbeaten streak. In August at the Women’s World Championship in Canada, Mueller suffered torn ligaments in her right ankle, but decided against surgery. She has fully recovered, she says, and now looks at the injury as an unusual blessing that forced her to take a break during this busy run that will include the world championship, the Olympics, and the Huskies’ bid for a national championship after losing the NCAA final in overtime last year.
“I honestly think my injury help helped me—it kind of gave me a stop halfway through the season,” Mueller says. “I feel very energized and ready for what’s coming. I’m definitely going to be stronger when I come back.”
Mueller will return to Northeastern just before the Hockey East playoffs, says Huskies coach Dave Flint.
“She’s so fit and she’s young,” Flint says. “With the excitement of the Olympics and then getting back to help her team win another [Hockey East] championship, she’ll find a way to get herself ready to be at her best.”
Mueller is excited for her third Olympic opportunity.
“I just love our country,” she says of Switzerland, “and being able to play on the national team makes me really proud to know that I’m a role model for so many younger girls and boys in my hometown. It’s so amazing that you will be an Olympian for the rest of your life, and that’s something nobody can take from you.”