Union hockey junior center Max Novak has had a difficult time staying healthy this season.
He missed the first five games of the regular season while recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Then, as the Dutchmen were on their way to clinching their third ECAC Hockey tournament Cleary Cup regular-season title, Novak missed the final five games of the season with an upper-body injury.
But Novak is ready to return to the lineup this weekend, when the top-seeded Dutchmen (24-6-4) begin their quest for a third straight ECACH tournament title when they host 10th-seeded Dartmouth (10-18-4) in the quarterfinals at Messa Rink.
The best-of-three series starts Friday at 7 p.m. Game 2 is Saturday at 7 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 7 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s unfortunate that it happens, but that’s part of the game,” Novak said Tuesday of the injuries. “There’s really not too much you can do about it. You try to get back as quick as you can. That’s what I’ve been doing. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but it’s not something I dwell on too much.”
Novak had eight goals and 13 assists in 24 games this season. Ironically, the first game he played this season was against the Big Green. He had a goal in the Dutchmen’s 7-2 win Nov. 1 in Hanover, N.H.
Last season, Novak played in all 40 of Union’s games, and had nine goals and 14 assists. He played the final two months of the season with the torn labrum, but the injury was kept quiet.
Novak’s second injury, which was the result of a check, occurred in the Dutchmen’s 4-1 win at Cornell on Feb. 14.
The downside of getting hurt was that Novak wasn’t able to be in uniform when the Dutchmen clinched the Cleary Cup the following weekend at Messa. The upside was that he didn’t have to rush back into the lineup for the regular season’s final weekend. With the Dutchmen guaranteed a first-round bye, Novak had the time to get more rest and properly heal.
“It hurt being out those games,” Novak said. “I’m so happy the team closed out the season and was able to win that Cleary Cup. The way we played those last couple of games was great. It was also nice that I didn’t have to push it and get back any quicker with the way the team was playing.”
Novak had an assist in last year’s Game 2 of the quarterfinals against Dartmouth, a 5-2 victory that gave the Dutchmen a series sweep. He then had an outstanding championship series, scoring a goal in the 5-0 semifinal win over Yale, and then collected two goals in the 3-1 championship victory over Brown.
“It will be great to have Max back in the lineup,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “He provides a lot in the games he’s played this season. He’s played well. He makes our guys better. That’s what you want from your top guys. And he’s always had a good playoffs, as well. It’s just nice to have a veteran back.”
And Novak can’t wait to play and contribute.
“There’s nothing that sounds better than playing in a hockey game right now,” Novak said.
Union junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere finished first in the first phase of the Hobey Baker Award fan balloting, according to Hobey Baker spokesman Wally Shaver. Gostisbehere received over 24,000 votes.
St. Cloud State junior goalie Ryan Faragher was second, and Boston College junior forward Johnny Gaudreau came in third.
The top 10 finalists will be announced March 20, when the second phase of fan balloting commences.
The Hobey Hat Trick finalists will be named April 3. The award will be presented April 11 at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.