When New Canaan’s Blythe Novick talks about competition, it’s obvious that she considers her teammates to be family.
That goes beyond ice hockey. In fact, it goes beyond people.
Meet Lars and Axel.
Lars 90 and Axel Springs are horses, but more importantly, they are Novick’s teammates in show jumping for Serenity Show Stable.
Ice hockey and riding aren’t a typical combination, but Novick has excelled at both.
A four-year All-State goalie, Novick wrapped up her high school career in March as an FCIAC champion and, just three weeks later, she and Lars teamed up to win the 1.1-meter jumper championship during a spring meet at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Florida.
Novick had been riding in Florida before the hockey season began, but didn’t return until after the FCIAC final.
Getting back to riding, working with her coaches and especially redeveloping her bond with Lars and Axel, was a welcome feeling, she said.
“The two horses I have now are really special to me and these past couple of weeks, focusing on them and taking care of them, has been super-nice,” Novick said. “After a long winter, I was able to reconnect with them and make that partnership in the ring so much better.
“They’re great. They’re funny and they have big personalities. Axel actually tore a hole in the wall between him and his brother Lars and now he has his head inside Lars’s stall and he won’t leave. They’re a little goofy.”
Getting back in the ring was not simple, and Novick said her coaches, including trainer Ruth Nicodemus, made sure she eased back.
“My coaches knew I was going to be a bit of a basket case wanting to get in there right away and be perfect. They reminded me that being perfect is an illusion, so I took it slow,” Novick said.
While in goal for the Rams, Novick was a stabilizing force since her freshman season..
She had a four-year record of 46-13-3 with 26 shutouts, two FCIAC championships, and one state tite, and a career mark of 9-4-1 against rival Darien, including a 2-1 overtime victory in the FCIAC final.
New Canaan coach Rich Bulan called Novick his “big game goalie.”
“Blythe lived for big games,” Bulan said. “I know she got nervous and that sometimes there was no talking to her (before games), but she always came through. She is fearless.”
Novick admits that she does feel pressure before hockey games, but the pressure of riding helped her on the ice.
“With the horses, so much is on the line — I mean, your life — so people think I handle the hockey pressure really well, but it’s really that hockey seems like an insignificant amount of pressure compared to riding,” Novick said. “If I make a mistake in hockey, I let in a goal. If I make a mistake in riding, my life and the horse’s life could be on the line.
“There is a lot of pressure in both, especially given the position I play in hockey. You’re the last line, and the team counts on you that way.”
Novick also found that lessons taught to her by coaches in one sport can be used in the other. She learned “mental tactics” for each, and used lessons learned in one sport to help her in the other.
“My coaches know nothing about each other but the similarities in their coaching styles really works for me,” she said.
Novick’s senior hockey season nearly didn’t happen. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of winter high school sports, but in January, an abbreviated schedule was announced.
“Given the opportunity, we needed to capitalize on every opportunity,” Novick said. “We saw last year that it could be taken away so quickly, so we didn’t want to have any regrets. We made it an emphasis to always go out there and play your hardest for your teammates.”
The Rams went 12-1 overall, and in three FCIAC playoff games, Novick allowed just two goals with a .960 save percentage.
Bulan credited the three captains – Novick, defenseman McKenna Harden and forward Courtney O’Connell – with keeping the team focused.
“It’s been a great four years with such a great group of people,” Novick said. “That’s made all the difference. We tried to spend as much time together as we could given the social distance situation (this season). It was really special to be back with everyone again and it was relieving.”
As for the future, Novick said she will continue riding outside of school, but expected her hockey career to be over. That may change because after the final game, she was “blind-sided.”
“Every season, when it ends, you know you’re coming back the next year,” Novick said. “I don’t know a time when it was different than that – I’ve been doing this with these girls since I was six years old. So I’ve been rethinking the whole not-playing-in-the-future thing, and may play club or something like that.”
Bulan said he hopes Novick will continue playing, and that there will be more big moments ahead. For the Rams at least, she went out with another big play.
“We won it with 1:22 left (in OT) but at 1:35, she made the save of the year,” Bulan said. “It got lost in the shuffle because of everything that happened right after it was so bang-bang, but that kind of save is what we’ve come to rely on with her for the last four years.
“In a big spot, she was always going to come up big.”