When the dream life you wanted since you were a kid doesn’t happen, two things could happen. You could slide back to reality and move on. Or you could come up with another dream.
Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, Jakov Novak was like a lot of kids there, learning to skate before he was in grade school and dreaming of playing professionally. In Canada, that normally means a stint in a big junior hockey league, where the best Canadian players age 16 to 21 go to develop their game and wait for the NHL to come calling.
Apparently, Novak’s young body didn’t get the memo.
“My draft year, I was 5 feet 8 inches, 160 pounds, really small,” he recalls. “I hadn’t hit my growth spurt yet. I was a late bloomer.”
Still confident in his game, and that he’d develop physically at some point, Novak picked another path.
“I thought, all right, the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is out of the picture, so let’s go to college.”
After one more year in Windsor and a stop at New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire, Novak had grown to 6 feet 3 inches and added 40 pounds to his frame. All of a sudden, people started to notice. One of them was Bentley assistant coach Ben Murphy.
“When I was in prep school, some schools were interested, but the one that always came around to the games, the one that always kept in contact, was Coach Murphy,” Novak says.
And while some schools turned hot and cold depending on his most recent performance, Novak appreciated Bentley’s commitment.
“The biggest thing that stuck with me was the loyalty that we both shared with each other,” he says. “They’ve been loyal to me for the past three years, so I stayed loyal to them.”
STICKING TO THE PLAN
After New Hampton, Novak was drafted by the North American Hockey League’s team in Janesville, Wisconsin. That Christmas, he accepted a scholarship offer from Bentley and, in the 2018 NHL draft, got the present he’d been dreaming of as a kid, when the Ottawa Senators made him its seventh round draft selection. He is the first Bentley Falcon to be drafted by the NHL in program history.
Novak’s happy with his decision to come to Bentley, and loves playing in the new hockey-first Bentley Arena.
“I love it,” he says. “There’s nothing bad about it.”
College hockey isn’t that big of a deal in Canada, so Novak wasn’t sure what to expect from the crowd. It didn’t take him long to be wowed.
“In my first game here, against Merrimack College, we filled the stands and it was surreal,” he says. “Hockey is such a big thing here. The atmosphere here fills the tank for us. Whenever we feel down, the crowd picks us up.”
When he’s not playing, Novak and his teammates are fans themselves.
“We love to show our support,” he says. “We’ve been to a lot of games. When all the other sports teams come out, that’s when you get the loudest crowds. They know what it takes, what it means to get loud, and how it affects the opponent and our energy.”
BENTLEY ON THE RISE
College is about more than hockey for Novak. He’s interested in a career after hockey, and knows a degree from Bentley can help make that happen. Student-athletes on Bentley’s 20-plus varsity sports teams are regularly recognized for their work in the classroom and, with a 99 percent graduation rate, the school ranks highest in the nation in that category for the second straight year.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to come to Bentley,” he says. “I was really into business, and the business program here is one of the best in the country.”
And even though his path the NHL didn’t go as he first thought it might, Novak is glad he stuck to his plan.
“I have a lot of friends who are in the OHL,” he says. “They go there, play three years, hopefully play in the NHL or AHL and after that they have no backup plan. That was the biggest thing my dad preached to me: It might be the longer path, but it’s the safer one for the future.”
“I’ve taken a lot of pride in my academics,” he says. “It’s a big thing for me. You can always go play hockey after. But if that doesn’t work, I’ve got a plan.”
The Senators have his rights for four years. He attends training camp with the team and other prospects in the summer, and waits to see what’s next. In the meantime, he’s working hard to take Bentley hockey to the next level.
“A lot of people think it’s just an academic school,” says Novak. “I feel like Bentley athletics is on a climb. When everyone’s together, we feel we can beat anyone.”