Jets' Novak follows unexpected flight plan
JANESVILLE--Jakov Novak had his entire hockey road map planned out.
When he was 15 years old, he assumed he'd follow the same path as his Canadian friends and teammates before him. He'd play his way into the Ontario Hockey League, a longtime stop for many on their way to the NHL?
Prep school? The North American Hockey League? Janesville? Novak had not only not considered them, but he admits he'd never really heard of them.
But while his mind hoped for one route, his body had other plans. Most notably, during Novak's OHL draft year, he was still 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds. And he eventually was forced into the realization that the OHL wasn't going to happen.
"To be honest, I did not know what the North American Hockey League was," Novak said this week as he and the Janesville Jets prepared for their Friday-Saturday NAHL home series against rival Springfield. "But I think it's been the best spot for me. Going to college next year, I think it's getting me ready."
Between unexpected stops to shifting roles, it's been a winding road.
From his minor midget season, when his size kept him from getting drafted to the OHL, to his midget season a year later, Novak sprouted to 6-2 and 185 pounds. He turned heads on the ice, scoring 25 goals and 46 points in 34 games with the Windsor (Ontario) Jr. Spitfires.
He still hadn't considered prep school, but a coach from New Hampton (New Hampshire) School approached Novak and convinced him to come on a visit.
"Being from Canada, everyone's thinking OHL. I wasn't even thinking college at all," Novak said. "But he really opened up my eyes, and I just fell in love when I saw the campus there
"It was one of the best moves I made in my hockey career."
Novak scored 37 goals and added 21 assists in just 40 games. It was enough to attract some attention from Bentley University in Boston, and coaches there made sure Novak was on the radar of the Jets and former head coach Joe Dibble.
The Jets subsequently drafted him No. 8 overall in the 2016 NAHL Entry Draft, and he was on his way to Janesville.
Novak's first NAHL season was not unlike that of other rookies. It takes some time to find a role, and Novak found himself becoming more physical and less of a scorer. He scored 11 goals and added 17 assists in 52 regular-season games.
"I found myself on the fourth line, and I just worked day in and day out, hitting guys and being the energy guy," he said.
Novak also rewarded Bentley, which plays in the Division I Atlantic Hockey Conference, for its early recruitment by committing to play there beginning next year.
Now in his second season with the Jets, the Riverside, Ontario, native is back to being a major scoring threat. He's tied for the team lead with six goals and has nine assists for 15 points in 14 games.
"I'm trying to be a go-to guy, and if the team's down one goal, try to get the edge and tie it up or win the game," he said. "It's fun to get better with the guys that you're around every day. You're always happy, and there are no negative thoughts."
Novak recently saw his role shift to playing a center position between captain Kip Hoffmann and talented rookie Erik Palmqvist. Novak also plays on the power play and the penalty kill and was voted an alternate captain by his teammates.
His main individual goal at this point in the season is to work toward playing with more consistency from shift to shift, from period to period and from game to game. Jets head coach Gary Shuchuk said the other players seem to feed of Novak's energy.
"On Saturday, it was probably one of his best games, playing a solid three periods, and our team did, too," Shuchuk said. "Just trying to teach him to play a 60-minute game all the time. He gets frustrated when he doesn't, and that just shows you his competitiveness."
Shuchuk also said Novak clearly has the respect of his teammates in the locker room.
The 19-year-old uses his leadership role to pass his story along to some of the Jets' younger players. He's living, skating proof that a player never knows exactly what path might lead to a Division I opportunity, or what role they might need to embrace to better their chances.
"It's not all about points, that's just what I try to stress to the guys. Sometimes they're worried about points, points, points," Novak said. "I had 28 points last year but was able to commit to Bentley. Points isn't all of it. They watch you, and if you work 110 percent, you're going to find a commitment."
Novak was forced to throw away his original hockey road map and ask for directions.
That certainly hasn't stopped him from find his way.