A Pardubice native who began playing hockey at the age of four, Radil spent eight seasons in the Czech Republic prior to his KHL debut. The undrafted winger signed with Spartak in 2015, steadily improving point totals across three seasons in the Russian capital. Radil opted to cross the pond in 2018 as a free agent, inking a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks and making his NHL debut in November. He remained in California for two seasons, returning to his former KHL team this summer under legendary head coach Oleg Znarok.
I caught up with Radil from Moscow, where Spartak awaits the KHL season start. We discussed his experiences in San Jose, stock market speculation and much more.
Gillian Kemmerer (GK): You have returned to Spartak under a new head coach—none other than three-time Gagarin Cup champion Oleg Znarok. What is your first impression of him?
Lukáš Radil (LR): He's really friendly and sometimes he jokes around with us—he’s a nice guy. What I know from my first month is that he has a really good feel for the team, or has made a good impression. He has great energy and is very much a mental coach. He knows what he's supposed to say, and for each player, he knows what he wants or what he needs. He has earned a lot of respect, I think. He has had so many successes in the KHL and with the [Russian] national team. I’m really appreciative to play under him.
GK: I spoke with your strength coach, Hassan Saeed, earlier in the summer. Znarok’s training camps are beastly, let alone after an unconventional offseason.
LR: It was really hard, and the first two weeks were especially hard, but it's practice to put you in better shape. Everything makes sense. I had other coaches at the beginning of my career here, and sometimes it didn’t make sense. It more destroyed you than got you into better shape. We’ve had pretty much three practices per day and we ran a lot, but I'm okay with running. When I first started in the league, I had coaches who made us run before breakfast and it was pretty hard, pretty tough. After this preseason camp though, I feel good. I think it got me into really good shape.
GK: Over the course of the last two seasons that you've been away from Spartak, a lot has changed. Obviously there is a new head coach, and a few imports arrived this year. What still feels familiar?
LR: So much stuff. The massage therapists and many of [the staff] are still the same. I know them and I know the veterans of Spartak, so it's really good for me. Of course they have changed coaches, and Znarok's arrival was the biggest change. But there is still Alexei Zhamnov, the general manager. There are a lot of people that I knew from before. I’m also living in the same place as I did last time. After the  FIFA World Cup, Moscow is in a little bit better shape than last time. But even when I was here before, Moscow was pretty clean. I'm living in the center, and everything is pretty normal and looks European to me—I'm good with Moscow.
GK: What have you learned about the team during your preseason matchups thus far?
LR: I think we have so much to do, and so much stuff to work on. There are still a couple of days to prepare. We have a tournament right now to get into better shape and start the season well, so we will see. I feel like every team, each team in KHL, still has to work on a lot of stuff during the season. I have to score more goals and be really good in the defensive zone. There is a lot to work on for our systems.
GK: You've played on the top line with some of the new imports to Spartak during preseason. Are we likely to see this trend continue?
LR: I like the line where I play with Jori Lehtera and Martin Bakos. We have been practicing together from the beginning of preseason. It looks really good for me, and I like it right now. I think you never play on one line all season—and I’m able to play with anybody on the team—but right now, I'm really happy with them.
GK: What lessons from the NHL have you taken back to Russia?
LR: I think the biggest takeaway I had from the States was to work on the details of my game. These details enable you to score more goals, make more points. You can become more valuable for your team. Playing in front of the goalie is one example. In Europe, we always like being in the corner and passing, more technical hockey. There was more pressure to go to the net. We had Peter DeBoer in San Jose, and he was really strict on his system—especially in the defensive and neutral zones. So I think I learned a lot there, and I will see if I can sell it.
GK: One of the most impressive things I’ve learned about you is that you drove a scooter to practice…in Moscow traffic.
LR: In the beginning when I was here, we played at Luzhniki. I was always traveling by subway, and everything was pretty far from the station. I am a little lazy during the mornings. I woke up early because the travel to practice took an hour or fifty-five minutes, and I wanted to sleep more. I just started to think about how the commute could be faster. I found out that a couple of guys used scooters. It probably got me a shortcut of around fifteen minutes..but still, it was a big difference for me! But it was only until the end of November. The snow was always the sign that I couldn’t use my scooter anymore.
GK: What happened to that scooter when you moved to San Jose?
LR: The first scooter I was using now belongs to my grandma! When I left Moscow for the States, I wanted to sell it or just leave it here because I didn't want to carry the scooter back to the Czech Republic. But my grandma called me and said, ”Bring it back and I will use it." So she's using it now sometimes.
GK: I was reading an article about a lack of ice availability in the Czech Republic for your generation of players. How did it impact your childhood training in hockey, and do you think that the situation has gotten better?
LR: I think more player are going to Sweden and Finland when they are juniors. There are some who go to the States and play. Maybe right now, there are more options to practice your skills. At the time when I was growing up, we just had team practice. There weren’t many options to work on your skills. I think we have more ice rinks and more individual coaches now. You can pay coaches for skating or shooting. I don't want to complain about all of that—it was okay. If I compare [my options] with today's options, they’re different…but I think that’s true for everybody.
GK: We are close in age, and the first Olympics I vividly remember is Nagano 1998. Where were you when that star-studded Czech team won gold?
LR: It was the biggest tournament for the Czech Republic, I think, in our history. Everybody knows where they were. I was in school, and during our lesson breaks, everybody was watching the TV. We watched the game against Canada in school. When they played the final, I was with my family on vacation in the mountains. My father woke me up at 6:00 AM and we watched it on TV together. I think it was the best hockey moment in the Czech Republic.
GK: What are some of your passions outside of hockey?
LR: I like golf and tennis, but you don't have much time during the season to play them. I sometimes read a book, and I like finance stuff. I like to watch the stock market. If I have some time and the weather is still nice, golfing is really good. When I was in States, we always played golf because we lived in California. I went surfing as well in Santa Cruz.
GK: Who would you say is the best golfer from the hockey world?
LR: I know that Joe Pavelski plays really well. I never played with him, but I heard he's really, really good. think he has a handicap of one or two.
GK: Tell me a little about your childhood. Your hometown seems to have produced a lot of Czech hockey talent.
LR: I grew up in Pardubice—it’s in east Czech. It's a pretty famous city for hockey players. Dominik Hašek is from there, Milan Hejduk, Aleš Hemský. People really like hockey there, and we have an arena for 11,000. There is always the most spectators during the season.
My parents wanted me to learn a lot of sports. They taught me how to play tennis and everything. One time we went to a public skating session, and my parents saw that I really liked it and I wanted to go again, again, again. They signed me up for some hockey school lessons at the age of four. It was three times per week, and that’s how I started.
GK: Many athletes attribute their success to playing multiple sports growing up. It sounds like you did the same.
LR: Yeah, I played soccer at the same time until I was fifteen. Then I had to decide to play hockey full-time. When I was a kid, we played everything. We played tennis, we played hockey in front of our apartment. We were always outside playing something.
GK: What kind of music do you like, and what’s one track on your workout playlist right now?
LR: I really like Coldplay. Last year, I went to a concert at the Hollywood Palladium. It was in LA, and it was the best concert I've ever seen because it's a really small venue—like a club. There were maybe 5,000 people and Coldplay was performing there. One of their songs that I like right now is “Something Just Like This.”
GK: What do you do on the KHL plane rides?
LR: I have some TV shows and Netflix. I watch some Czech TV shows and sometimes I read a finance book. I like real life stories, autobiographies too.
GK: Are you going to give us any stock picks from your portfolio?
LR: I put just a little bit [into the markets] because I'm studying economics at university. I know a little bit, but I think it's a full-time job and there’s not much time to know everything about the companies. So I try to invest, but I think I'm more speculating!