Czech 2003 prospects: Martin Lucka

By Robert Neuhauser
The Czech city Uherske Hradiste has only one player born here drafted to the NHL. This player will be known mostly to the Columbus Blue Jackets fans as it is their guy, defenseman Radim Bicanek. Next year, there will be another blueliner from that city available to the NHL teams. Martin Lucka, the Zlin juniors standout defenseman.

Martin Lucka didn’t think of a hockey career at first. When he was a little kid, he wanted to try all sports. So it came that at the age of four he laced up the skates for the first time, but it took three more years before Martin found the way into the hockey arena in his native city Uherske Hradiste. He liked the skating, but nothing convinced him to start a hockey career. Finally when Martin was seven his parents decided that he should do some sport like most kids do and because hockey is the most popular sport in the region, his father took him to the first practice.

Martin’s first coach Radek Psurny, father of twins Michal and Roman Psurny, who are both regulars with the Czech Under-17 team, has put Martin Lucka at forward first. He was creative with the puck, he learned how to skate very quickly and it seemed that he will fit this role well. Martin skated at left wing even in his first hockey game ever. But soon after that the coaches felt that defense will suit Martin better and he moved to the back rows.

He began to learn how to make use of his imposing frame and deceptive quickness and these strengths made from him a defensive anchor of his team. Martin took care of his own end first but didn’t hesitate to show his strong outlet passing and quite often joined the rush. Uherske Hradiste 1985 borns paticipated at about four youth tournaments a season and it was frequently Martin Lucka who took home the award for the Top defenseman. That also thanks to his various off-ice workouts, when Martin had a free while he often did some to improve his overall strength and conditioning. Martin Lucka’s role model is Detroit Red Wings’ defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, because of Lidstrom he also likes to wear the number 5 on his jersey. From the time he saw Lidstrom play he wants to pattern his game after him.

When Martin was performing for the 5th grade team of Uherske Hradiste, the team enjoyed the first success. The Uherske Hradiste 5th graders won the regional championship title in their southern Moravia region, but finally didn’t make the trip to the final tournament of the 5th grade teams from the whole Czech Republic. This changed already the following season, in the 6th grade. The Uherske Hradiste kids made use of their experience from the previous season and were ready to face the top Czech teams at the final tourney of the 6th grades. There they battled pee-wee teams from the Extraleague franchises and left a very solid impression with the third place overall. This was Martin Lucka’s biggest success before he moved up to the midget ranks.

Martin was a key performer of his team and the coaches, being aware of this, gave him the captain’s duties on the Uherske Hradiste 7th grade team. That season was also Martin’s last in his native city. Extraleague teams were informed about the play of the talented blueliner and Martin received a very solid offer from the nearby Zlin team. In Zlin he had a chance to practice under a very experienced coaching staff and play in the senior Extraleague someday. He agreed on the offer and joined Zlin prior to the season he should start playing for the 8th grade team.

Martin had a respectable start in his new team, showing a mature game with a nice offensive flair. Coach Zdenek Svoboda was impressed with Martin’s raw talent and so was midget team head coach Stanislav Prikryl. In the 1999-2000 season was Martin still eligible to perform for the 9th grade team, but played most of the season for the Zlin midgets in the midget Extraleague as an underager. Like all rookies, he had to get used to the faster-paced game first and didn’t rush forward a lot. In his first season on the elite midget level Martin played 30 games, registering 4 points for 4 assists, a +/- of +3 and 16 PIMs. Among the Zlin midgets he also got the nickname he is using now, “Louka” (it’s from Martin’s surname and it means “meadow” in Czech).

The next season Martin knew what competing in the midget Extraleague is all about and looked confident and composed out on the ice. He used his big reach effectively and began to show flashes of his offensive potential, he frequently carried the puck out of his own zone and distribted it to the forwards. Martin also took care of his own end well which resulted into a whooping +/- rating of +24 after the season was over. This number was reached in 50 games, where Martin also notched 13 points for 4 goals and 9 assists to go along with 32 PIMs. In 2000-2001 came Martin’s debut in the junior Extraleague, too. The twice underaged blueliner was an emergency recall on one occasion, Martin played 1 junior game, going scoreless with a +1.

The 2000-2001 season was the first when Martin had a taste of international competition. After an eye-opening performance at the selection camp the coaches Karel Najman and Jaroslav Beck have invited him to four tournaments during the season. Already at the first one, a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Slovakia, he scored his first international goal, which lifted him to the second place in Czech defensemen scoring race on that tournament. He added one more goal in a three-game series against the Under-16 team of Russia, but the season’s high came at the Four Nations Tournament, played in Yaroslavl, Russia. The young Czechs claimed the victory there and Martin concerns this as his biggest international success so far. For the Czech Under-16 team Martin played 12 games, scoring 2 points for 2 goals, a +2 and 4 PIMs.

Zlin juniors head coach Zdenek Cech felt that Martin has nothing to prove on the midget level in the 2001-2002 season and after seeing what Martin is capable of at the summer practices, he kept him on the junior team. Martin fought out a regular spot in the Zlin juniors defensive rotation and helped the Zlin midgets in their second overall-place success only in 4 games, going scoreless but showing a huge defensive awareness with a +7. He also went to the penalty box two times, 4 PIMs overall. On the junior level he could feel what it takes to be an underaged player again. Opponents sometimes four years older than him gave him lessons, but Martin learned from his mistakes. Playing a reliable defensive play was Martin’s goal and it can be said that he achieved it. The puck-carrying raids from the midget cathegory didn’t take place as Martin concentrated on defense more. In 36 junior games he didn’t register any points, a -8 and 33 PIMs. The end of the season was a bit unhappy for Martin who suffered a broken collarbone and had to miss the remainder of the season thanks to this.

Thanks to various health problems he missed a lot of the international schedule, too. In fact, Martin’s international season in 2001-2002 consisted only from a three-game series, played in Prievidza, Slovakia. In those 3 contests Martin went scoreless, with an even +/- and 0 PIMs.
He spent the summer with re-habbing and getting into shape again, but hard luck struck again. Martin had only a week of the on-ice practices before the same injury hit him again and he had to be placed on the injury reserve – with a broken collarbone. This injury cost him also a showing at the prestigeous World Junior Cup of the Under-18 teams, played in August in both Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The injury didn’t fully heal until eight months from suffering the first broken collarbone, so Martin played just 14 games for the Zlin juniors this season so far, now under head coach Stanislav Prikryl. In those 14 contests he lit the lamp two times while adding one assist for 3 points overall. He has an even +/- and 6 PIMs. Martin understands himself on the ice well with other skilled defensemen, like his Zlin junior teammate Ondrej Dvorak (ranked 12th among Czech skaters by the CSB Preliminary Ranking) or Pavel Zavrtalek.

One of Martin Lucka’s strong points is definitely his hulking frame. At 6’3”, 187 lbs. he has a very solid size, he just needs to bulk up and gain more strength to fill out that size. Despite being a lanky player, Martin skates quite well. He has nice acceleration and an above-average straightaway speed. The things to work on for him in this skill are upgrading his agility, mobility and gaining more balance. Martin has terrific passing skills and can distribute the pucks very effectively thanks to his great reach. He handles the puck well with his soft hands and has a very good vision. Martin also reads the plays without further trouble and knows where his position on the ice is. When challenged by an opponent, he doesn’t tend to panic and tries to find a simply way out, thus he isn’t guilty of many defensive zone lapses. Albeit he boasts such a big frame, Martin won’t jump at you as a huge physical presence. He has to be tougher if he wants to succeed in North American hockey and learn how to use his size better to keep the opponents off the scoring chances. His shooting also hasn’t come all the way yet, Martin’s shots could be both harder and more accurate. Still there is a good sign that he’ll get rid of those weaknesses and become a coveted defenseman. If everyhting works well for him, he can be a 6th or 7th NHL defenseman. Right now, he is ranked 9th among Czech skaters by the CSB Preliminary Ranking.

It is clear that hockey takes most of Martin’s time. Every day he has either a practice or a game, so he has hardly any time for other activities. He studies at a secondary school in Zlin, he attends a sports class and is in the third year of his studies. When Martin is at home, then his favorite activity is sleeping. He knows that strength is very important for athletes, so he spends lots of time with resting. When it comes down to active resting, then Martin often chooses to ride his bike and sometimes plays soccer or basketball with his friends. He also likes to watch Czech movies on TV. From food he prefers to eat chicken meat with pasta, food from pork meat only rarely.

A Detroit Red Wings’ fan, Martin Lucka is getting ready for coming over to play in the CHL. He wants to see how he can succeed in North America, but on the other side wants to have his secondary studies have finished before. So his coming over depends on his agreement with his school in Zlin about the needed exams. Hopefully there can be a way found which will make both sides happy. Good luck!