During the offseason, Traktor strengthened its lineup with the Czech forward Tomas Hyka, who is now about to have his official debut in the Kontinental Hockey League. Hyka talked with KHL.ru about his first impressions with his new team, shared some thoughts about Peteris Skudra’s style, and virtually tipped his hat to Jaromir Jagr.

“Pavel Francouz recommended me to move to Chelyabinsk”

Tomas Hyka signed with Traktor in June and had plenty of time to adapt to his new reality. He looks excited with his new team and city. “I have only the best impressions so far,” the forward says. “Chelyabinsk is a big city with many positive things. I live in a neat district, where everything is within walking distance – including restaurants. I received a strong impression from the KHL as well. Here many teams play on the big ice, players are excellent and so is the pace of the game. You have to move around a lot. I love this kind of hockey.”

Like many other international players who move to Russia, Hyka resorted to his countrymates before taking a final decision. “My friend Pavel Francouz played three seasons in Chelyabinsk,” he explains. “I have asked him about both the city and the team. Many other Czechs played here earlier, and I have heard only positive feedback. Thus, I have decided to sign with Traktor.”

Pavel Francouz, who is now stopping pucks in North America for the Colorado Avalanche, also seems to be satisfied with the years he spent in Chelyabinsk. “Pavel told me that Traktor is a great organization and that his three years were like just one instant. According to him, Chelyabinsk is not like Moscow, but its team has the same great traditions. He was pleased with the time he spent with Traktor.”

“Francouz also told me about the district where I live – along the Lesoparkovskaya street. He told me that it’s the best place in Chelyabinsk. There are good restaurants and a park nearby. I already visited it, and I loved it. It turns out that Pavel was right.”

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“I already understand the Russian language”

Hyka, however, was attracted not only by the park. “I know that Chelyabinsk was nicknamed “Tankograd” and has a rich and deep history. When my whole family is here, we’ll visit the outdoor tank museum in the park.”

Chelyabinsk is a popular destination with Czech players. And not only. “Francouz told me about a Czech man who lives in the city for 20 years already,” Hyka explains. “He gave me his contacts. However, we are yet to meet. I know that there is a Czech restaurant, but I also didn’t have a chance to get there so afar. During the Traktor Open event, some Czech fans approached me. I’m sure that I will have even more chances to get to know more of my countrymates in Chelyabinsk and in Russia.”

As for any other import player, the knowledge of the local language plays a substantial role in a player’s adaptation and Hyka is no exception to it. “I’m actively studying the Russian language. For now, I don’t know many words, but I can follow what the people are saying,” the forward explains. “The Russian language is similar to the Czech, and this helps. I can’t actually talk yet, but I think that in three to four months my Russian will be at an excellent level.”

Talking about adaptation, it also helps when a player is joined by a countrymate. Traktor can now boast a dynamic Czech duo with Hyka and Lukas Sedlak. “Lukas and I are represented by the same agent. When I was negotiating with Traktor, he told me that Lukas was also joining the team. Sedlak and I are friends since the junior national team times, and it’s great to be playing with him.”

So far, Skudra is playing them on a line with Canadian forward Christian Thomas. “It’s great to play with them,” Hyka admits. “Tommy already knows the League as he played here last year. Generally speaking, most of the players in Chelyabinsk talk English. In the team, everybody looks out for each other, and this helps to form the necessary chemistry.”

Hyka also praised his new head coach Peteris Skudra, and not only because of his excellent command of the English language. “He reads very well the game, and he works in the KHL for a long time already. As far as I understand, he likes a fast and physical game. This kind of hockey fits my style.”

Skudra, who coached Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod for five seasons before taking a one-year hiatus and then joining Traktor, is known for his emotional conduct. “Every coach is different. I already have experience with expressive coaches. I understand that emotions help Skudra in getting things done on the ice. Peteris is a great coach, and I hope that we will be able to play exactly the way he wants.”

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“I’ve already heard about the Russian tires drills”

Hyka’s resume now includes a hard preseason in Russia, where teams are renowned for their hard practices. “It was a tough preseason, but it’s the kind of work that helps you to get ready for the new season. You get to understand your role for the team and your teammates.” The Czech forward also admitted to already know the Russian tires drills. “Yes! I know them!” – He laughs off. “My teammates sent me some clips. It’s when a guy sits in a tire, and another player pushes him back and forth for 30 minutes. But we didn’t do it yet with Traktor. By the way, I’ve also heard the Cooper test, but once again, we haven't had it yet.”

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“Shipachyov had a hard time because he didn’t know the language”

Hyka was well-informed about the KHL even before moving to Chelyabinsk. “I know that the KHL is one of the best leagues in the world. It has many excellent players, a fast-paced game and well-organized teams. I watched many highlights, especially during the playoffs. Sometimes in the Czech Republic the local TV broadcasts KHL games and I watched them. I also watched some of the All-Star games, I enjoyed them.”

In the latest two seasons, Hyka tried to get a full-time NHL spot in Las Vegas but played only a handful of games with the big boys. “I spent two seasons with the Golden Knights, and I played a few games in the NHL, it was an incredible experience. Last year I played mostly for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, and we reached the Calder Cup finals. Even if we didn’t win, it was a tremendous experience. Getting to the NHL would have been very hard. The team signed so many new players, and there was no room for me there.” Playing in the world’s central entertainment city was a new experience for Tomas. “It was fun to be there. In Vegas, it’s an eternal show. However, it’s a fantastic place with many good people. I enjoyed spending my free time there.”

A couple of years ago, Vadim Shipachyov was one of the first players signed by the desert franchise. His move didn’t pan out, and after playing only three games in the NHL, he got back to Russia, signing with SKA. Shipachyov also said to not have fallen in love with the city. “I think that it was hard for Vadim because he didn’t know the language and it was his first time playing abroad. I liked Vegas, there’s a lot there, not only casinos. I found there some Czech friends who lived there for 20 years. As I could go places with them, it was easier for me.”

The Czech forward has represented his country at most competitions, but now he will once again have to play at the Euro Hockey Tour. He seems to be excited with the opportunity: “I’m always ready to play for the national team, and I never declined an invitation,” Hyka says. “It will be exciting to represent the Czech Republic at the EHT. I played two IIHF World Championships, and it was a great time.” Both times, however, the Czech Republic was defeated at the quarterfinals stage. “Yes, once by the Russians, and another time by the USA,” Hyka recalls. “The latter was particularly bad because we had an excellent team and it was a close game. However, the Americans had Patrick Kane at their disposal: he scored twice and decided the outcome of the match.”

The Czechs won their last WC in 2010. “I don’t even recall when we won a medal at the event! Of course, this is unpleasant, but the team is working hard, and I hope that next year we’ll at least get to the podium.”

During an interview, Hyka declared that his idol is Jaromir Jagr. “Of course, he’s a true warrior and a legend!” – The Czech forward admits. No matter what age he is at, 24 or 42, he always worked hard. Jagr loves hockey, and that’s the reason why he keeps on playing. I hope that everything will be good with his health and that he will keep on playing next season. I also hope that I can follow his example. Any hockey player wants to play as much as possible. Jagr is one of the few who can potentially play until 50. He really works very hard.”

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“My father is still watching after me”

Tomas started playing hockey following the footsteps of his father, who was a pro in the Czech elite league in the 90s. “My father put me on skates when I was 5. I also played football, but I picked hockey because I wanted to be like my father,” he says. “He coached me when I started playing. He was pretty tough, but now I only have to thank him for his approach. Everything I achieved in sports was only thanks to my father.”

Hyka’s father keeps on watching all his son’s games and calls him to tell his opinion. The forward feels that it helps him to play even better. “My father can’t wait to have a chance to fly to Russia to watch me in person,” Hyka says. “Moreover, it will be more comfortable for him to watch my games in the KHL, if compared to the NHL, because of the time zones.”

Just as most of his colleagues, Hyka has set high goals for the season. “Our goal is to get to the playoffs and win the Gagarin Cup. We will get there with a game-by-game approach. We will work very hard during the practices to show the kind of hockey our coach is expecting from us. Of course, it is crucial to have fun while playing.”

KHL.ru dossier

Tomas HYKA

Born on March 23, 1993, in Mlada Boleslav (Czech Republic).

Career: Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic – 2010-11, 2014-17; Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL – 2011-13; Farjestad, Sweden – 2013-14; Chicago Wolves, AHL – 2017-19; Vegas Golden Knights, NHL – 2018-19; Traktor, KHL – 2019-today.

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