Czech 2003 prospects: Radim Hruska

By Robert Neuhauser
Developing their own prospects is essential for any professional hockey franchise which thinks about long-term plans and not only about present time. Vsetin enjoyed a terrific championship series in the Czech senior Extraleague between 1995-1999 and then in 2001. But besides signing star players who helped them to claim those victories, they developed their own young players. One of them is Radim Hruska.

Radim Hruska made his first visit to the hockey arena in his native city Vsetin when he was five years old. His father had the immediate influence in this decision, he wanted his little son to do some sport and because hockey is by far the most popular sport in the small Czech city, he had an easy choice. Plus, even if he didn’t enjoy a hockey career of his own, he always liked to lace up the skates and play hockey with his friends and this love to hockey he gave also to Radim. The youngest Hruska was happy about this fact and after the first practices he knew that hockey is exactly the game he wants to play.

When the coaches saw the lanky Radim on the ice, they have put him on the defense first. Radim had no trouble with this and he was eager to learn how to keep the opposing forwards off the scoring chances. He made use of his natural talent and a strong vision to cover the defensive zone well and was among the top kids on the team in a relatively short time.
Radim played defense even for the 3rd grade team under head coach Milan Trnka, but when he was about to turn ten, he got promoted to the one year older cathegory to face a more mature opposition which was a challenge for him. And Vsetin 4th grade head coach Ladislav Marsalik made the most important change in Radim’s hockey career. He has converted the smart defenseman into a forward.

From now on Radim could forget about preventing the others from scoring, suddenly it was up to him to create offense and score goals. Again, he didn’t worry about this much and began to concentrate on this different role. He had to work on his skating more, but his crafty puckhandling helped him to overcome the growing pains of his transition. Coach Marsalik could see the dividends of his decision quite soon as Radim established himself among the top performers and was a boost to the team’s offense. It was evident that this decision was a right one and Radim Hruska didn’t have to wait a long time for his first success as a forward.

It came when Radim was playing for the 7th grade team of Vsetin, under head coach Josef Lang. Radim had enough experience from the youth tournaments played in the Czech Republic, where he sometimes captured a trophy for either the Top forward or Top scorer, but now his skill should be on display at an international tournament of the 7th grade teams played in Austria. The Vsetin 7th graders left a very solid impression there and even more Radim Hruska, who went home with the trophy for the Top goalscorer of the whole tournament.

The next season the Vsetin 8th grade team returned to Austria again for the new edition of the tournament between the teams of 1984 borns and history was repeated. An inspiring performance by the Vsetin team, stocked with quality players, and Radim Hruska grabbing the Top goalscorer honors. The Vsetin 8th graders made use of this experience en route to the championship title between the 8th grade teams in the Czech Republic when they succesfully earned victory.

The next season this success was turned even into a back-to-back one. Vsetin 9th grade team was unmatched in quality of the roster which boasted the likes of Jiri Hudler or Robin Kovar and they managed to defend the championship title. It was the last event for most of the players before moving up to the midget cathegory, including Radim Hruska. Radim notched 56 points for 28 goals and 28 assists while performing for the Vsetin 9th grade team.

A finesse forward, Radim Hruska relies more on his skill than on toughness or hard hitting. At 6’2”, 175 lbs. he is still quite skinny and has to fill out his skinny frame more before he can think of a career in North America. He doesn’t play an overly tough style and would have to get used to this first. Radim has sharp instincts and is particularly lethal around the goal area using his nifty moves and persistence. He has a great wrist shot, which is very accurate and with a fast release. He scores most of his goals using the wrister, his slap shot is quite average and could see improvement in hardness and accuracy. Radim has a very good vision and is a smart passer who is a boost on the special teams. He has a talent to make a surprising pass and create a scoring chance by doing so. A versatile player, Radim can take care of his own end too as he is defensively responsible. Upgrading his skating will be necessary for Radim Hruska who has some reserves in speed and agility. A more explosive stride would make him a bigger offensive threat, but overall he is a decent prospect.

Among the Vsetin midgets he had to deal with a faster and more physical game in the midget Extraleague, but after a slow start he saved the season with a better performance during the second half. In 1999-2000 Radim Hruska learned the tools of the midget Extraleague trade and finally recorded 7 points for 6 goals and 1 assist in 38 games. Not very impressive stats, but Vsetin midgets team had lots of experienced players and the rookie Hruska didn’t see much ice time.

It was up to Radim Hruska to prove that he deserves more ice time and bounce back from the previous season’s showing in 2000-2001. Head coach Jiri Hudler, father of Detroit prospect of the same name, has put his faith in Hruska in awarding him with a ‘C’ on his jersey and he answered with more than a point per game average. Now fully accustomed to the midget ranks, Radim showed that he can score and pass very well and his stats stopped at 38 points for 18 goals and 20 assists in 34 games. That with an even +/- and mere 8 PIMs.

In 2001-2002 Radim was no longer midget Extraleague eligible and he moved up to the junior team. There he had to deal with the rookie’s role again, but this time Radim got used to the different level of hockey very quickly. Vsetin junior team didn’t carry many future stars on the roster last season and head coach Bretislav Kopriva could provide him with enough chances to showcase his talent. Radim Hruska, nicknamed ‘Hrouda’ (means ‘clod’ in Czech) from his surname, formed a great duo with Lukas Valko and this combo clicked well. Vsetin juniors made a trip to the first round of the playoffs which was quite a success and Radim posted decent numbers with 15 points for 10 goals and 5 assists in 35 games to go along with a +/- of +5 and 12 PIMs.

After going unnoticed in the Under-16 and Under-17 cathegories, Radim Hruska was finally invited to the Czech Under-18 team. ‘His’ Vsetin juniors coach Bretislav Kopriva coached the Czech Under-18 team along with Pavel Marek last season and he felt that Radim has all the needed tools to do well against international competition. So it came that Radim Hruska made his international debut on the famous Viking Cup. He had a decent but scoreless showing and wore the international jersey also at the following tournament, the Four Nations Tournament. There Radim recorded 2 points for 1 goal and 1 assist and could look forward to an invitation to the selection camp for the Under-18 WJC. Unfortunately, he was one of the cuts so he rounded out his first international season at 9 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, a +/- of -3 and no penalty minutes.

Radim Hruska’s hockey role model is former Philadelphia Flyer and Edmonton Oiler Jiri Dopita, who recently returned to Europe. Dopita is an icon for the young players in Vsetin and he captained the Vsetin senior team in the times of their biggest glory in the late 90’s as they won seven senior Extraleague championship titles, six with Dopita on the roster. Radim admires Dopita’s skill and especially his modest demeanor. Also on the honor of Dopita he prefers to wear the number 30 on his jersey, which wore Dopita in the Czech senior national team.

This season Radim could count on a more increased role on the Vsetin junior team, who wants to challenge for the junior Extraleague championship title. The first task is already accomplished as they won their respective division after the first part of the season. Radim Hruska skates mostly on the first or second line and so far he amassed 35 points for 17 goals and 18 assists in 31 games, followed with an even +/- and 40 PIMs.
On the international scene Radim made one appearance this season, he performed at a tournament of the Under-19 teams played in Finland. At this tournament he registered 1 point for 1 assist.

But the most important fact is that Radim impressed Vsetin senior coaches enough to promote him to the senior team. Radim has already played his debut in a game at Vitkovice and after Jiri Hudler’s departure to Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian Superleague Radim hopes to fight out a regular spot on the team. Till now he appreared in 5 contests in which he went scoreless.

A Pittsburgh Penguins fan, Radim isn’t only a very solid hockey prospect, he is an accomplished player also in another sport, simillar to hockey – in hockeyball. Radim plays hockeyball regularly for Vsetin and enjoyed a major success in 2000, when he was a member of the team which won the championship title in the Czech Republic. The next year Vsetin hockeyballers with Radim Hruska finished at the 3rd place overall and last year 2nd overall between competition from the whole Czech Republic.

When Radim isn’t playing hockey or hockeyball, then his most favorite sport is tennis. But he knows that life doesn’t consist only from sports and he regularly visits the bussiness academy in Vsetin. He is in the third year of his studies and he should graduate next year. He also likes to listen to dance music with Slovak group Elan and Czech group Krystof being among his favorites. When it comes down to eating habits, Radim eats food suitable for a young athlete, mostly spaghetti with chicken meat, to drink then mineral water. He can’t be counted to the very superstitious players, his only hockey superstition is that he always dresses into the gear from the right side first and that every time he puts on the right skate first.

Radim Hruska’s game didn’t remain unnoticed to the NHL scouts, too. The Central Scouting Bureau had ranked him 15th among Czech skaters in the preliminary rankings, in the mid-term rankings Radim sits at the 84th spot among European skaters. The NHL Entry Draft is one of Radim’s dreams, but this is more of a long-term one. His short-term plans are winning a regular spot on the Vsetin senior team for the next season and becoming a good Extraleague player. He doesn’t consider coming over to the CHL and wants to take the European route to the NHL. Good luck!