Union center Max Novak had a nice sophomore season last year.
He played in all 40 games, collecting a career-best 23 points on nine goals and 14 assists. Novak scored twice, including the game-winner, in the Dutchmen’s 3-1 victory over Brown in last March’s ECAC Hockey tournament championship game, and he had an assist in Union’s 5-1 win over Boston College in the NCAA tournament East Regional semifinal.
It’s even more remarkable when you consider that Novak played hurt most of last year.
The reason Novak missed Union’s first five games last month is he was recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Novak returned to the lineup last weekend, collecting a goal and three assists in the Dutchmen’s ECACH wins at Dartmouth and Harvard. The junior makes his Messa Rink season debut tonight at 7 when the Dutchmen (2-0 ECACH, 3-2-2 overall) host Colgate (1-1, 3-5-1).
Novak scored in Friday’s 7-2 win over Dartmouth. The next night, he collected three assists in the Dutchmen’s 4-2 victory over Harvard.
“It’s real nice to be playing hockey again and get back in the lineup,” Novak said. “It was a little disappointing [missing games], but there’s not much you can do about it. I knew what I was getting into in the offseason. But it was still tough after having a good end of the year. I’m just excited to be back now.
Very few people knew of the injury, which happened in February. Even though it was painful to play with the torn labrum, the 22-year-old from Oak Ridge, N.J., managed the pain well.
“I just played through it, and had it fixed,” Novak said. “There was pain, but when your adrenaline’s going, it’s not that bad.”
Union coach Rick Bennett was amazed how Novak played through the pain.
“We felt for Max. It’s not something you want to see happen to anybody,” Bennett said. “He’s one tough son of a gun. He battled through that. He played through that the whole year. He actually went through training this spring, as well, and he didn’t say much. That told us that’s one tough guy. Eventually, he had to give in to it and have surgery.”
Before missing the October games, Novak played in 49 straight contests. The last game he missed was Feb. 18, 2012, against Quinnipiac.
Novak’s return gives the Dutchmen more depth at center.
“It definitely makes us stronger down the middle,” Bennett said. “Having Max there certainly gives our team and gives our coaching staff a lot of confidence. He’s such, I believe, an underrated player throughout our league. He does a lot of things well that a lot of guys can’t do or don’t want to do. He’s really well-liked. Guys like playing with him. Whoever he plays with, he just makes better. That’s a big component.”
Junior left winger Daniel Ciampini played in Novak’s line last weekend. Ciampini scored twice in the second period against Harvard to help the Dutchmen overcome a 2-0 first-period deficit.
“I thought he looked great,” Ciampini said. “We were talking about it on the bus to Harvard. He said he felt good. He played really well at Harvard. What you’re going to get is consistency night in and night out. That’s huge for the team, and it’s huge for the freshmen to see a guy that competes consistently like that.”
“We were roommates for a while. It was pretty fun to get together and play well. It was nice. He’s easy to talk to, easy to get along with. It made things a lot easier on the ice.”
The Dutchmen will seek to build upon last week’s successful weekend when they face Colgate. The Raiders are coming off a split last weekend at home. They were trounced by Quinnipiac, 7-2, and bounced back with a 3-1 win over Princeton.
“I expect an absolute battle,” Bennett said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach [Don] Vaughan and his staff and the way they approach the game. It’s always been a tough matchup for us. You better be able to play that game fast because they can play it fast. We better be on our toes and ready to go.”
RPI hosts Cornell
It will be a battle of the ranked teams at Houston Field House tonight at 7 when No. 10 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1-1-1, 5-2-1) hosts No. 15 Cornell (1-1, 3-1).
Both teams split their games last weekend. The Engineers lost to Harvard, 2-0, and beat Dartmouth, 7-1. The Big Red got past Princeton, 4-2, before dropping a 3-0 decision to Quinnipiac.
RPI coach Seth Appert was very impressed by Cornell with what he saw on video.
“They look good,” Appert said. “They look like a top-15, top-10 team in the country. They’re big. They’re strong. I think their puck skill is greater as a group, ‘D’ and forwards, than it’s been the last two or three years. They have a very talented, veteran goaltender [Andy Iles]. I don’t see a dramatic weakness in their team.”