For Whitecaps’ Leveille, every day is hockey day in Minnesota

All hockey all day for Amanda Leveille.

Besides winning two Isobel Cups in the NWHL and three NCAA titles at the University of Minnesota, Whitecaps star goaltender Amanda Leveille may have the distinction of spending more time in ice rinks than any athlete in professional hockey.

When we talk about a “life in hockey,” few may compare to the life of the goalie everyone calls Lev. There are two disparate but equally meaningful results of all this time spent in cold arenas. When Leveille has a big game – as she does Friday, when the Whitecaps play Connecticut in an Isobel Cup semifinal – few can make the case they are as prepared. And while she’s getting ready for her NWHL close-up later this week on NBCSN and Twitch, Leveille is simultaneously coaching Minnesota’s next generation of goaltenders.

In response to a request, Leveille provided a peak at her March calendar. A day may feature Jaguars (Bloomington) and many other teams named after animals, but for Leveille, it is never Groundhog Day. This is the life she has chosen, and she wouldn’t change it.

“I love what I do,” she said. “All of it. I’m blessed to be connected with all of these young players, and I’m fortunate to play professionally and build the game and our league with all of my great teammates on the Whitecaps.”

To be sure, Leveille’s schedule is not any lighter in the days leading up to the Isobel Cup Playoffs this weekend in Boston. The only thing different about this week is that one and possibly two of her hockey games will be shown on a national television network.

“This game against the Whale is the one we’ve been preparing for all year,” said Leveille.

Her daily schedule of giving private lessons and coaching the goalies at private academies and with girls’ and boys’ high school hockey teams will not hinder her preparation for Connecticut. Leveille says the on-ice work, whether it’s with the Whitecaps or instructing young goalies, only enhances her performance in the NWHL.

The numbers and highlight reels back her up.  In her three seasons in Minnesota after winning a Cup in Buffalo, all Leveille has done is win. In leading the Whitecaps to the Isobel Cup in 2019, Leveille posted a .966 save percentage in the playoffs. In Minnesota’s overtime victory in the semifinals in 2020 (before the Final was cancelled at the start of the pandemic in the U.S.), Leveille shut out the Riveters.

She had the same life schedule then.

Almost every player in the NWHL has a full-time job, is continuing their education, or both, and has a hectic calendar. In the early years of a business dedicated to demonstrating the value of a women’s pro hockey league while building with partners but taking the lead, the players make no secret of their double lives. In Minnesota, all-star Jonna Curtis is an advanced products assurance engineer for 3M, while league co-MVP Allie Thunstrom is a field product specialist at Ergodyne. Both Curtis and Thunstrom also dedicate time to girls’ hockey initiatives, naturally.

Leveille is the director of goaltending at Os Hockey, one of the leading player development programs in the state. She wakes up nearly every day at 5 am and her first goalie tutoring session is often at 6 a.m. When she comes home in the middle of the day, it’s to prepare a healthy meal so she has something ready to eat when she finally gets home late at night. Her afternoons are filled running at least two practices for the goalies at local high schools. All of her work is assigned by Os Hockey.

“I love coaching the young players,” Leveille said. “It’s gratifying to see some of the goalies I’ve helped train become great players and attract interest from college programs. All the work helps me, too. Their passion for hockey is an inspiration. I’ve also become more analytical. In the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve become a better goalie.”

If you ever see Leveille at a Whitecaps practice at TRIA Rink, you’d have no idea she may have spent 4-6 hours earlier in the day in full goalie gear at rinks around the region. Minnesota co-head coach Ronda Engelhardt says Leveille pushes to see as many shots as possible, making the case for small-area games every night. Leveille also likes to compete in Ring of Fire, a game where the players and the nets are in a circle and the goalies have to block the puck as teammates move it around.

“The game is basically chaos,” Leveille said. “You have to concentrate the entire time. I want the action. In the small-area games, I can see 30 shots in five minutes. I’ve always been a very competitive person. When I was four years old, when I was losing a video game, everything in the world was wrong.”

Leveille’s playoff prep goes far beyond Whitecaps practices. She works out twice a week with a personal trainer who caters programs for Leveille’s position, emphasizing strength and flexibility, speed and agility, and injury prevention.

That’s not all. When she has a break in her own coaching schedule, Leveille squeezes in a private session with Minnesota goalies Allie Morse and Erin O’Neil (a former Whale who is the Whitecaps’ unofficial third goaltender) under the direction of Christian Gaffy, a coach in Forest Lake. Recent sessions with Gaffy have focused on getting Leveille ready for the NWHL playoffs.

“Skating drills, working on being set, in position and letting pucks come to her, puck-tracking, rebound control,” said Gaffy, who played at St. Mary’s University.

Whitecaps forwards and defenders serve as guest shooters. The lessons run anywhere from 45-90 minutes and are recorded on the Apex video system so the goalies can review.

“It’s crucial to have those technical sessions,” Leveille said. “When we’ve had our last one before a game, I feel like I’ve done everything possible to be ready.”

Leveille will watch video of the opposing team, but does not keep a book on shooters, saying she prefers to be “in the moment.” In the NWHL season in Lake Placid, Leveille and some of her teammates sat masked and rows apart in Herb Brooks Arena to study the other games. She knows Friday’s showdown with the Whale will be an intense battle.

“I saw all of the Whale’s games because they were the only team we didn’t end up playing in Lake Placid, and you could see the talent and the grit,” said Leveille. “Both their goalies (Brooke Wolejko and Abbie Ives) are outstanding, their D is strong with (Shannon) Doyle and the others blocking a million shots a game. In their win against Boston, all the new players looked great.”

Like most playoff games, the Whitecaps-Whale semi could come down to goaltending.

“We will be ready,” Leveille said.

When asked for his take on what makes Leveille so successful, Gaffy – the goalie instructor who teaches Leveille when she’s not teaching – said, “You want a goaltender to have a relentless work ethic and passion for the craft. That’s Lev. It’s a mindset that drives her to be at eight different rinks in a day. It’s a mindset that brings out her best in games with a lot on the line.”

This weekend in a rink in Boston and on national TV, Leveille gets to show her youngsters once again how it’s done.