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Coming to America

Tomas Hyka Relishes Second Chance at North American Hockey

Not long after this Chicago Wolves season began, Tomas Hyka visited the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Schaumburg to take his driver’s test.

The 24-year-old forward from the Czech Republic didn’t get a passing grade on his first try, but he did just fine the second time and became the proud possessor of an Illinois driver’s license.

“The driving wasn’t a big deal,” Hyka said. “The writing was pretty hard for me. I didn’t understand the signs. That’s why I made mistakes the first time and couldn’t pass. Once someone helped me and explained the signs, I was able to do it.”

With any luck, Hyka’s second-chance success at the DMV will be replicated during his second opportunity to play hockey in North America.

Way back in 2012, when Hyka was playing for the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior League, the Los Angeles Kings picked the 19-year-old in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft.

Though Hyka stacked up 54 points in 49 games for Gatineau during the season after he was drafted, the Kings opted to let their draft rights to Hyka expire. That left him with little choice but to return to Europe to launch his professional hockey career.

He spent his first pro season playing in Sweden for Farjestads BK (which, ironically, gave him an opportunity to play in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic as Farjestads BK faced current Wolves teammate Brandon Pirri, then-Wolves goalie Jake Allen and the rest of the AHL’s best).

Then he returned to his native Czech Republic to play for his hometown team, Mlada Boleslav BK, in his country’s top professional league, Czech Extraliga.

Over the course of the last three seasons, Hyka stacked up 38 goals and 42 assists in 117 regular-season games for Mlada Boleslav.

Hyka was so impressive, he earned a roster spot on the Czech national team that competed at the 2017 World Championship in France. It marked the first time Hyka represented his country at the senior level.

On the heels of a seventh-place finish – eliminated by eventual bronze medalist Russia – Hyka received the most pleasant surprise of the summer: A call from his agent saying the NHL’s new expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, was interested in him.

“It wasn’t on my radar,” Hyka said. “There wasn’t any sign that I would go to the NHL, and I still had a one-year contract back home, so I did not expect that call. But it’s a new team, a new opportunity.

“You never know what is going to happen, and you never know if that opportunity will come again, so I decided to come back [to North America].”

One of several Vegas prospects playing for the Wolves, Hyka’s second chance has gotten off to a fast start. He scored goals in three of the Wolves’ first four games and produced seven points in the team’s first eight games.

“He’s made great strides,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson. “You can see the potential. When the puck’s on his stick something is going to happen.

“The objective is for us to teach him how we can get the puck on his stick more and I think he’s been a great student.”

Making an NHL lineup is an uphill battle, but the transitioning to the North American-style of hockey and living hasn’t been.

For Hyka and his fiancé, Katrina, life away from the rink in Chicago has been enjoyable. During the team’s first days off of the season, the couple explored the city and visited “Cloud Gate” – the sculpture more commonly referred to as the Bean – and walked Michigan Avenue.

Hyka and his fiancé also have been pleased with the amount of his native culture they’ve encountered, ranging from authentic Czech restaurants to driving. Yes, driving.

The fast-paced, split second-decision making nature of Chicago traffic is similar to what Hyka is used to in Czech Republic.

“Everybody drives really fast here,” Hyka said. “And I just try to keep up as much as I can.”