Walleye rookie Travis Novak believes Toledo’s recent roster upheaval creates uncertainty, but also opportunity.
Novak, a 24-year-old forward, said his four-year college career at St. Cloud State was far different than his first season as a pro.
While roster stability was a constant in college, the recent settlement of the NHL lockout plundered the Walleye lineup. Callups to the higher level American Hockey League have left the team without six of its top eight scorers.
“It's definitely a little different,” Novak said. “In college you're with guys for two and three years, and you know they are going to be there. Now there's this uncertainty. It's a big change for sure.”
The rookie forward will be called upon to help fill the scoring void. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 19 points, with five goals and 14 assists. He had three assists in three games last week.
“When guys end up moving on others have to step up, and I am one of those players that can do that,” Novak said. “I want to contribute offensively and help the team win.”
But Novak said he and his teammates realize that roster upheaval is part of pro hockey, particularly at the Double-A, minor league level. “Everyone still has a good attitude about things,” Novak said. “All these moves come with the territory. You know it will happen and you just move forward.”
Novak, a native of Lethbridge, Alberta, said these days the players are not sure who will be in the locker room from practice to practice.
On Tuesday, the team added two forwards and a defenseman. The organization also traded a defenseman and released another blue-liner.
“It's tough with the kind of turnover we've had,” Novak said. “Your getting new guys and losing others. You hope things straighten out.”
Novak had two assists in Toledo's 4-3 loss to Florida on Saturday. He also had an assist in the Walleye's 3-2 loss on Friday.
The depleted Walleye dropped three straight on the road last week to Florida. Toledo twice held leads going into the third period against the defending ECHL champs, but lost both games.
“We were in all of them, but we didn't close them out,” Novak said.
Toledo (19-16-4) has lost five in a row and dropped to third place in the ECHL North Division. The Walleye are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games, managing to earn single points with two losses in shootouts at home.
“It's tough going through these spells but it happens,” Novak said. “We had two shootout losses. We're playing pretty well, we just need to get a couple bounces in our favor.”
The Walleye are in the midst of a five-game stretch away from home. Toledo plays Friday at Fort Wayne and Saturday at Evansville. The team returns home next weekend for three games.
Toledo has already passed the season's midpoint and has played 39 games. Novak said an entire season of hockey in college lasted about 36 games.
“In college we would have already played a full season, so getting used to playing so many games is tough,” he said. “You just have to take care of your body and be ready.”
Novak said the key to winning on the road this weekend against two North foes is to play hard.
“Road games are always a little tougher,” he said. “Teams play better at home. You have to go in and outwork the other team.”
Novak was actually born in Midland, Mich., and lived there for a year before moving to Canada. His mother Tina (Mack) is a Toledo native.
“So it has kind of come full circle,” Novak said. “There is family still here and they come to a lot of the home games. They have me over for dinner, and it's nice not to have to cook as often.”
Novak, who majored in biomedical science at St. Cloud State, said he eventually would like to attend medical school. He was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association all-academic team multiple times. “School has always been important to me,” he said.
But first he wanted to take a stab at professional hockey. He played in eight games in the AHL last season with Hamilton.
“I wanted to give it a shot like every kid. I've always wanted to play in the NHL,” Novak said. “[Toledo] was the road to do it. It's been a really good experience.”
FISH TALES: The team signed D Erik Spady and F Nino Musitelli, while F Tyler Brenner was assigned to the Walleye by the Toronto Maple Leafs. ... Toledo also released D Tyler Miller and traded D Dean Moore to Florida for future considerations. Miller and Moore each played in three games for the Walleye last weekend. ... Spady played in 34 games this season for the Fort Worth Brahmas of the Central Hockey League, scoring three goals with 14 assists. Musitelli played in 20 games this season with the Allen Americans of the CHL, scoring two goals and three assists. ... Brenner posted eight goals and 13 assists in 32 games this season with Bakersfield of the ECHL. … The Walleye have not scored a power-play goal since Dec. 31, going 0 of their last 21. The Walleye are 21st out of 23 teams in the ECHL on the power play at 14.8 percent. … Toledo is tied for third with eight shorthanded goals. … The players that haven't actually tasted walleye will get the chance today at a fish fry lunch at the Huntington Center.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.