Rockets vs Royals

Kelowna Rockets forward Pavel Novak celebrates his goal against Victoria Royals goaltender Brock Gould in WHL action at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria on Wednesday.

Pavel Novak apologizes for his grasp of English. It’s a good thing, then, the 17-year-old Kelowna Rockets forward does much of his talking on the ice.

From Tabor, Czech Republic, Novak has scored 16 goals and added 14 assists in 31 games in this, his rookie season.

While the year hasn’t been without it challenges, Novak said he’s enjoying playing hockey in North America.

Oh, and his English is just fine.

“Canadian game is different,” he said after a recent practice. “I think it’s most physical. It’s more about skating. The rink is small ... this is the biggest difference.

“I like this game more because, in Czech, it’s slower,” he added. “It’s not about skating.”

Slower, and more reliant on skill, he said.

Novak has displayed plenty of both. The Rockets drafted him in the first round, 13th overall, in last season’s import draft.

All anyone knew about Novak was he burned through last season with Motor Ceske Budejovice U19. He scored 29 goals and added 16 assists in 31 games.

He added three assists in 20 games with Budejovice in the Czech2 league.

But how that would compare to travelling across the world as a 17-year-old kid to play Canada’s game was anyone’s guess.

It didn’t take Novak long to ingratiate himself to Rockets’ fans.

He notched two assists in Kelowna’s 5-1 win over the Everett Silvertips the third game of the season.

They were both terrific passes that showed off his vision.

Novak scored his first goal two games later in a three-point effort against the Tri-City Americans, a 6-1 victory.

He added two more the next game against Prince George, and he was suddenly well on his way to putting him in the conversation among the best import rookies to have played for the Rockets.

“He brings so much you don’t really know what to narrow it down to,” assistant coach Vern Fiddler said in October.

Fiddler coaches the forwards.

“At the same time, he’s looking to get better every practice,” Fiddler added. “That’s what I love about him so much.”

It wasn’t all good news for Novak this season. In a Nov. 11 game against the Blazers in Kamloops, Novak hit Kyrell Sopotyk into the boards. The referees ejected Novak, and the league slammed him with an eight-game suspension.

He didn’t return to the lineup until Dec. 10. Novak scored five points before breaking for Christmas, but the layoff — combined with travelling home for Christmas — appeared to have taken a toll on him.

Opposing defences kept him quiet through four games into the second half of the season. Breaking out with two goals and an assist last Sunday in Tri-City was a good sign.

“I had a lot of chances. I couldn’t score for the first and second periods, but I scored a lucky goal and everything was OK,” he said.

“The last couple of games, I was bad,” he added. “I didn’t score, so it’s a great feeling.”

Head coach Adam Foote is hopeful Novak will be back for good as Kelowna heads into the stretch drive.

The Rockets host the Kamloops Blazers tonight at 7 p.m.

“To watch him practice (now),” Foote said. “He’s rolling with some confidence and he’s got some zip.”