Intense with internal reflection, a riff from Metallica or Pink Floyd pumping into his ears, Eric Levine sits quietly in the empty stands at 84 Lumber Arena before home games, visualizing himself in goal for Robert Morris.
On these nights, it's not uncommon for Levine to have gone hours without uttering a word, sometimes since he first stepped out of bed.
The starting goalie for the Colonials men's hockey team this season, Levine trusts in the mind-body connection and uses sport psychology principles to guide him in the net.
"I try to visualize myself from a different point of view," said Levine, a sport psychology major. "I do it from the stands, and it forces you to use more mental energy. It's been part of my routine for five or six years and something I use to try and get my mind a little sharper."
A thinking man's goalie, Levine said his most difficult task this year has been learning how to handle success. A backup his first three years at Robert Morris, Levine became the No. 1 goalie for the Colonials this year and got off to an 8-2-2 start to help his team to a national ranking in early January.
He is 6-7 since and hopes to peak down the stretch and into the playoffs. The team has three weekend series left, starting with a home-and-home against first-place Niagara tonight and Saturday.
"Learning how to deal with success is a very underrated aspect of sports," said Levine. "When you're the starting goalie, that motivation of getting to play is taken away. You have to find motivation in other ways."
On this day, a respite in a stretch of five games in eight days, Levine is sipping on a protein shake in a black Members Only jacket after a team run. He talks about taking yoga at a private club in Sewickley alongside soccer moms once a week; the principles he has learned in class from Dr. Samantha Monda, a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology; and how he works every day at keeping his heart rate steady with breathing techniques.
"The mind and body coming together is a big thing from a sport-psychology perspective," said Levine. "You can't use two separate operating systems and expect to have good results."
Levine also explained that the fluctuations in adrenaline and heart rate a forward or defenseman can use as an advantage represent a dangerous way for a goalie to exist.
That's why silence is his preferred method.
"That's how I prefer it. When you don't talk, you think in your head and can go over what you need to, which puts me in my own little bubble," said Levine. "And whether I like it or not, that's how you are on the ice, in your own little bubble. People come in and out, but you're always there.
"So, being self-conscious of your emotions and thoughts is important. The more control, the more calm, even-keeled you'll be. You have to block out the chaos around you and be tunneled into what you need to do."
Such thinking is no surprise to Levine's longtime goalie coach in Chicago, Tom "Chico" Adrahtas, who recently sold the goalie camp Levine worked for and attended.
"Eric's grown so much, and the reason he's become what I believe to be an elite goaltender, and he's going to be paid to play the sport someday, is directly because he recognizes the constant need to check himself," said Adrahtas, who said he generally speaks with Levine weekly.
"Because Eric thinks so much, I always tell him thinking is his worst enemy. If he feels like he's not playing well, I tell him to play farther out [beyond the crease]. The farther out he plays, the less time he has to think. He's taking himself out of a situation where he has time to think about the oncoming rush. That's the position I like to put him in. He's a quick athlete."
Levine's hockey career began in the Chicago suburbs, when middle school boys in his neighborhood first let him play street hockey with them if he stood in goal.
He was 3 years old.
Levine's wish is that once his playing career is over he will return to Chicago and run that goalie camp.
"I want to integrate teaching goalies with the on-ice stuff, but really with an emphasis on the sport-psychology aspect of it," he said. "My dad and I were surprised it just wasn't being taught to goalies. It's an undervalued aspect of the game. You can be as good as you are, teach until you're blue in the face, but if you don't give goalies the necessary mental skills and toughness to handle the position, it doesn't matter."
He believes he has come a long way in four years at Robert Morris, particularly in this year while making the transition to starter.
For now, his goal is to stay focused and help his team peak at the right time.
"We've learned a lot about responding, resiliency, and I think we're hitting our stride at the perfect time," said Levine. "It's really all about who is playing the best at the right time."
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.