Michelle Novak was nervous approaching the Peoria Rivermen about being the team’s athletic trainer three years ago.
“It was kind of a trial basis,” recalled Novak. “We were going to see if I fit. Would it be OK? How the guys would perceive me.”
The meeting with team president Bart Rogers and head coach Jean-Guy Trudel went well. Now the franchise’s first ever female trainer is as much a part of the Rivermen as any player or coach.
In fact, she is one of only two female trainers in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
The former Normal West High School softball star’s injury-plagued college career spawned her training career.
“I got injured in college, spent a lot of time with my athletic trainer,”‘ said Novak. “That sparked it. I know it sounds weird but I love dealing with blood, the gory stuff.”
Now Novak is getting her team ready for its first championship appearance in 16 yeas. The Rivermen play Pensacola in the five-game President’s Cup finals starting Saturday.
“The guys are very respectful towards her, she’s great around the guys,” Trudel said. “She’s been a breath of
fresh air, she brings a great attitude every day. The professionalism she brings every day on communicating injuries has been fantastic.”
On game nights, Novak says she arrives at the arena at 8 a.m and typically doesn’t leave until after 11 p.m.
She understands she’s helping blaze a trail for women in hockey and makes the extra effort to encourage
other young ladies in her line of work to due the same.
“It sounds crazy but I get emails from female college students in the athletic training programs asking me how I did it,” Novak said.
She is in her fifth year as an athletic trainer. She worked in the Chicago suburbs at Hinsdale Central High School and with the Bloomington Edge indoor football team before coming to Peoria in 2013.
“Not a lot of people actually enjoy going to work every day,” said Novak. “I’m the first one here, I unlock the
doors, I turn on the lights, with a smile on my face. And I’m happy to be here every day.”