The game of hockey has endured many changes. We’ve seen the format change from two 30-minute periods to three 20-minute periods, hockey sticks go from wood to graphite, and overtime be played four-on-four.
This season proves no different as the American Hockey League has implemented the shootout and other rule changes, including Rampage defenseman Filip Novak’s favorite: the no-touch icing rule.
One hundred and three games, three MRI’s, two long summers and one surgery have passed and the 2002-03 AHL All-Star and All-Rookie couldn’t be happier entering the 2004-05 season with the San Antonio Rampage.
“It’s safer and it protects the integrity of the game,” Novak said of no-touch icing, “allowing an even faster pace.”
Prior to this season, Novak’s last regular season game played was Mar. 11, 2003, against the division rival and soon-to-be Calder Cup champion Houston Aeros. Novak was chasing a loose puck towards the boards when a player pushed his stick on the heel of his left skate. Novak fell back with his momentum sliding his frame rapidly towards the board. Trying to brace for impact, Novak’s ankle crashed into the board at full speed head on.
“The doctors thought it was twisted,” said Novak. “It was swollen to the size of a softball and already turning blue.”
Within a five-minute span, Novak knew he was not returning anytime soon, especially for the remainder of the game.
The following morning, Novak had a MRI, but the results were indefinite. The doctors couldn’t make an accurate decision due to the inflammation.
The Rampage finished the regular season, their inaugural season, with a 36-29-11-4 record and third-place West Division finish, enough to make a run for the league’s Calder Cup.
That run was short-lived as the Rampage were swept by the Norfolk Admirals. Novak played the final playoff game after he was medically cleared.
The 6-foot-1, 194-pound defenseman took the common month off after the Rampage’s inaugural season before starting a workout regimen. He even played squash, a Czech Republic favorite, with his hometown friends.
Prior to joining his fellow Florida Panthers teammates in August of 2003, Novak knew that his ankle wasn’t fully healed. Within a couple of weeks of two-a-day practices, the strength in his ankle diminished.
Novak underwent a second MRI only to have the same outcome: too much swelling to tell.
A week later, Novak had a third MRI where the doctors injected dye into his ankle to see the bone better. Results revealed the initial result of the injury, Novak suffered a torn ligament. However, his ankle’s condition was deteriating. His ankle had bone decay since no blood was flowing through a part of the bone and cartilage.
Novak underwent what was considered an “experimental” surgery with only a 60 percent chance of effectiveness. Novak elected to have cartilage be transplanted from his knee to his ankle.
After spending the last half of last season in San Antonio cheering his teammates on, Novak has waited long enough to be more a part of the team. So while the AHL also establishes a trial period where a goaltender may play the puck without impeding his ability to assist his defensemen, Novak can return the favor with a new vote of confidence.
So far, Novak has played in all nine games for San Antonio.
“When I saw the news of the AHL adopting the no-touch icing rule, I was more confident on taking the ice this year,” said Novak. “You don’t have to worry about skating to the puck, or tripping.
“I’m glad the rule is in place.”