The NHL Combine has wrapped up. Interviews between players and scouts have been conducted. The television and print analysts are just about finished with their mock drafts, and the real thing now less than two weeks away. Today waterlooblackhawks.com continues a series of features highlighting the four Hawks among NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings; we present for reflection five nights when Tom Novak came up big.
With remarkable on-ice vision, few USHL players were more capable of creating scoring chances than Novak. Among the league’s top 20 setup men, only Hayden Shaw outdistanced Novak’s 0.74 assists per game. On nights when Novak was credited with one point in the box score, there was a better-than-average chance he would have two; the University of Minnesota recruit accumulated 15 multipoint games.
Although limited by a late season lower body injury, Novak was still Waterloo’s second-leading scorer with 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 46 games. His +14 plus/minus differential was best among the Black Hawks. League coaches and general managers recognized him with a slot on the USHL All-Rookie Second Team.
Throughout the season, Novak’s play was constantly scrutinized by scouts. His year included an August trip to Europe for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, then a December excursion to Canada for the World Junior A Challenge. For good measure, Novak notched an assist during the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game in January. With plenty of views, the experts liked what they saw; NHL Central Scouting ranked him 28th among eligible North American skaters. Now we rank five performances which Black Hawks fans might remember fondly.
#5 – January 31st at Sioux City
The Musketeers were just able to stay out of reach during a 4-3 decision at Tyson Events Center. The result came despite the first two-goal effort during Novak’s USHL career. Each goal brought the Hawks just shy of tying the affair. Down 2-0 in the second period, Novak jammed in an opportunity at 6:51. Then less than six minutes remained in the third, and the Hawks faced a 4-2 deficit when a Sioux City turnover created the opportunity for Novak’s second of the night. In four head-to-head appearances the River Falls, Wisconsin, native would stack up six points against the Western Conference-winning Muskies.
#4 – February 6th at Madison
The next time out, two more Novak goals would key a better result for the Hawks. As the Hawks made their first trip to central Wisconsin to face the new Madison Capitols, it was an assist by the forward which opened the scoring. Late in the first period, he shook off a check near the Caps blue line, creating a two-on-one tally by Max Coatta. In the opening minute of the second, Novak scored one himself, going to the front of the net to knock-in a chance in traffic. He added the final marker of the night in the third, during a Waterloo power play, and the Hawks cruised to a 5-0 victory.
#3 – February 28th at Dubuque
Waterloo was rolling on the road in late February and Novak helped extend the away winning streak to four-in-a-row with two key points in the second period. The matchup was even at 2-2 as the frame began. It stayed that way until 6:05, when Novak’s power play assist allowed Henrik Rommel to break the deadlock. Then with just 35.6 seconds remaining before intermission, Novak stuffed a shot between the Fighting Saint goaltender’s left pad and the post to make the score 4-2. That goal proved to be the winner during the 5-3 contest.
#2 – January 23rd vs. Chicago
Novak’s high-water mark as a Black Hawk came during a 7-1 home win against the Steel. Despite the wide margin of victory, Novak’s effort included timely contributions to turn the game decisively in Waterloo’s favor. Down 1-0 in the first period, he dashed down ice and below the goal line before dropping a pass to Coatta for a one-touch shot and game-tying goal. Nine minutes later, Novak crept up the slot and was on the receiving end of a pass from the side of the net before snapping the puck home for the go-ahead goal. He assisted on another Waterloo tally during a four-goal second period, then picked up his third assist of the game in the third period. Novak’s four-point night also ended with a +4 plus/minus effort.
#1 – October 24th at Fargo
The circumstances of Novak’s first goal in junior hockey could hardly have been less dramatic, at least not during the month of October. Visiting the Fargo Force, the game had been scoreless throughout the first period. Waterloo led for much of the second, but Fargo evened the count in the final minute before intermission. It was still 1-1 with three minutes to go, before the Force nudged ahead for the first time on the power play. The Hawks were given a power play of their own and a last opportunity to answer with under a minute remaining. Adding an extra attacker to the mix, the visitors set up Brandon Montour for a blast from the left point which bounced away off of goalie Matthias Israelsson. From there, the puck went right to Novak, who squeezed in a shot from the right circle before Israelsson could move from side to side. Just 15.9 seconds showed on the clock, all that separated Waterloo from a fruitless 14-hour round trip to North Dakota. Alas, Novak’s timely score earned just one point for the visitors, as the Force eventually claimed the victory, 3-2 in a shootout.