Novak likes the big stage
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?
Max Novak scored a historic goal here for Union College two seasons ago, off a two-on-one with Jeremy Welsh against Michigan State.
Welsh set the school record for goals in a season with 27 that year, so naturally Novak was trying to pass it across to his teammate, but the Spartans’ defenseman was thinking the same thing.
Novak, then a freshman, put the puck in the net himself for what will stand as the first goal ever scored by a Union player in the NCAA Division I tournament.
The junior center from Oak Ridge, N.J., has shown an uncanny knack for scoring when the Dutchmen are on the biggest stage and under the harshest spotlight.
He had two goals in Union’s ECAC tournament championship win over Brown last year, and he’s been incredible this postseason. On Friday, Novak scored twice, including what proved to be the game-winner, as the Dutchmen handled Vermont, 5-2, at Webster Bank Arena.
“Certain players rise to the occasion,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “It isn’t anything that you don’t see in the NHL playoffs or throughout college hockey. Last year, look at Yale, when Andrew Miller came up big for them. Hopefully, we don’t have to rely on one guy, but it’s nice when that one guy puts it in the back of the net for you.”
Novak missed the first five games of the season while recovering from surgery on a torn labrum in his hip, then missed the last five of the regular season with another injury.
To say he looks fresh would be a gross understatement.
In five postseason games, he has five goals, the go-ahead in the series-clinching win over Dartmouth, what proved to be the game-winner against Cornell in the ECAC semifinals and the final goal in Union’s 5-2 win over Colgate in the ECAC final.
Returning to the site of his goal against Michigan State on Friday, Novak quickly countered Vermont’s tying goal, then made it 3-1 on a goal that was credited as a tip-in by Daniel Carr. Video review showed that it went in off Vermont’s Yvan Pattyn.
Novak’s first goal was an exercise in terrific body and hand control.
A Kevin Sullivan crossing pass got in Novak’s skate, and he fell to his knees trying to stop the puck and direct it to his stick blade, but still managed to swipe a backhander in from a tight angle.
“When I saw Sullivan had it, I was just screaming for him to throw it over,” Novak said. “He put it in a spot where I could pick it up, and then I was able to chip it in.”
“He’s got good feet. He puts a lot of pressure on players, plus he’s got the hands to match,” Bennett said. “That makes you a dangerous player.
“Ever since he came back from his injury, it’s like he has a second gear.”