I really like taking the metro in Moscow
In Moscow, there are a lot of expats working in just about any field. Many of them are professional athletes, and today we’d like to introduce one of them. In this exclusive interview with Capital Ideas, HC Spartak Moscow’s goaltender Július Hudáček talked to us about how he spent his first year in Moscow, his favorite places in the capital, why he likes taking the metro and the MCC, and much more.
Július Hudáček was born in the small city of Spišská Nová Ves, in Slovakia. He played in his home country, on Košice’s team, and then went to Sweden to play for teams from from Södertälje and Gothenburg. He was also on Slovakia’s national hockey team, which is how Július got noticed by the Kontinental Hockey League. Hudáček first played with HC Sibir Novosibirsk, then came back to play for Sweden’s Örebro team for 3 seasons, and finally returned to Russia in 2017. He played for Severstal Cherepovets, and then joined the ranks of HC Spartak Moscow, where he had a phenomenal debut season and is now training for a new championship.
Július, have you had a chance to adapt to Moscow? You haven’t lived in cities this big before, right?
Everything is different in Moscow – it’s a big city that lives its own life, which isn’t anything like the life in other cities in Russia, the Czech Republic, or Slovakia. Our family just ran into a minor issue: my eldest daughter, who is three, does gymnastics, but we’re having a problem with logistics. I’d like to live close to the VTB arena, where Spartaks hosts our home games, but my daughter has her lessons in Khamovniki. So right now my wife and I are deciding what to do.
By the way, I like the metro and the MCC when it comes to getting around the city. It’s very convenient, and you can get from one end of the city to another quickly. And no traffic jams.
Does Slovakia have a metro?
No. Our biggest City is Bratislava. Only 500,000 people live there, which is small for a metro (smiles).
How does your wife like the Russian capital?
In 2018, we had a daughter. When we moved to Moscow, she was just three months, and our eldest daughter was two. My wife was usually at home watching the kids when I was at a game or practicing. She didn’t have an opportunity to explore Moscow, she had to spend a lot of time with the kids.
Does your family prefer bigs cities or smaller ones?
My wife and I talked about this and decided that our ideal option would be Gothenburg, which is where we lived when I played for Frölunda HC. It’s a small city with almost no traffic jams. Everything was nearby – movie theatres, parks, shopping centers.
But I want to say that I really like it in Moscow! It’s great for both us and the kids. For now, living here is a joy because we are 30. But when we get older, we’d like to live in a more peaceful atmosphere, in a small town. We have a lot of time before retirement though, so I can say for sure that the Hudáček family is enjoying Moscow a lot right now!
Do you have favorite places in Moscow already?
My kids and I go to Gorky Park, Filyovsky Park, and sometimes to the Patriarch’s Ponds, it’s very beautiful and cozy there! Of course, we also go to the Czech House, it has delicious beer (laughs). I like Tverskaya and Arbat. We’ve been to the observation deck in Moscow City. It’s gorgeous! You need time to see everything in Moscow, and I don’t have a lot of it. I train every day, and we’re starting a new season soon so my schedule will be even busier.
We also really like the Moscow zoo – not just the kids, I like it too. I’ve been there four times already, and know all the animals personally (laughs). I really wanted to see the giraffe, and it wasn’t there the first two times. I finally got to see it the third time I went.
Do you take the car in the city a lot?
This happens on the weekends, or when I go to the airport. Usually I take a cab. I take my daughter to practice on the MCC, she really likes it! She’s totally happy, plus it’s convenient, like I already said.
The metro is almost always full of people, does this bother you?
Absolutely not. First of all, it’s fast. Second, it’s convenient. Third, the Moscow metro has really beautiful stations. I took the metro last year too and paid attention to the infrastructure. Belorusskaya, Mayakovskaya, Novoslobodskaya… It’s very beautiful!
Your Russian is very good. When did you learn it?
When I went to school in Slovakia, we had Russian in school. A lot of people in Slovakia who are over 40 know Russian very well. I started learning when I transfered to Severstal. I came to Cherepovets after the World Championship and started studying right away. Slovak is similar to Russian, so I started speaking a month in.
Do you speak other languages?
I speak English. I learned Swedish when I was there, but I’ll be honest – it’s very difficult. Learning Russian is much easier, at least for me.
Did you forget Swedish already?
This summer, the Swedish defenceman Patrik Hersley transferred to Spartak from SКА, so now I’ll get to practice my Swedish (laughs).
What did you think of your first season with Spartak?
This was a great season for both me and my team. We were close to beating SKA in the play-offs, but ran short on luck, and maybe steam. I would like to play every game like it’s my last one. That’s how it is during play-offs.
What do you think of the people in Moscow? Are there differences between fans in the capital versus other cities?
Yes, of course there are differences. For example, during playoffs there were a lot of fans who always sit behind the goal – I call them “ultras.” They’re great fans! But a lot depends on the stadiums. In the regions, there are a lot of small arenas where the fans are closer to the ice, and we have a better connection with them.
What do you think of the fans in Moscow?
It was a big surprise for me to see our fans come to away games in Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Astana, and other cities. It’s so far away, but people travel for Spartak and support us everywhere. I was surprised and impressed! Spartak is really popular throughout all of Russia.
For Spartak fans, a winning home game isn’t over once they hear the goal horn – everyone waits for the Hudashow! You come out on the ice, dance, have fun, and entertain the fans. What’s the story behind the Hudashow?
This goes back to when I was really young and played for Košice’s team in Slovakia. We had a goalie who did shows like this after games. One time, after we finished a game and the goalie did his show, the fans wanted an encore. So that’s when the team said: “Maybe you want to show off what you got?”. And I kept it going.
These shows were spontaneous at first, but by the time I transferred to the Swedish club, Hudashows were already popular on social media and people expected them. On Christmas Eve I put on a Santa Claus costume and the children really liked it.
Let’s talk about your helmet design. When you started playing for HC Severstal, you got a moose painted on your helmet. Why this animal?
I got a moose painted on my helmet for the first time 10 years ago. The moose’s name is Lumpy – he’s the main character of a cartoon for adults. It’s a blue moose, one the characters of Happy Tree Friends. He shows up in almost every episode, so you can say he’s the main character. Lumpy has buckteeth, and he’s pretty odd in terms of how he’s drawn – his nose isn’t heart-shaped, he’s very tall. The year I first put a picture of him on my helmet, we won the Slovakia Cup, so it’s been a tradition for many years. A good luck charm, if you will.
But when you came to Spartak, you got an entirely new helmet design, with matryoshka images of Slovak players who once played for this team – Branko Radivojevič, Štefan Ružička, and Dominik Hašek.
When I came to Spartak, I started learning about the club’s history right away, and learned on the internet that Branko Radivojevič, Štefan Ružička, Dominik Hašek, and Ivan Baranka all played on the team. So then I had the idea to put their images on my helmet. Everybody in Slovakia knows that these guys did a lot for Spartak, and are still popular among Spartak fans. Branko was Spartak’s captain, and Štefan was a leader in many respects. And everybody knows about Dominik – he’s a global hockey legend.
The helmet turned out really good! It will be different this year, but still really cool. It will have a wall made out of red brick with the team’s logo and name.
Have you crossed paths with these guys in your career?
Branko and I are friends, we played on Slovakia’s national team together. When I played in Pardubice, which is Dominik Hašek’s home town, we met and got to know each other there.
Golf is one of your hobbies. How did you pick up this sport, which is fairly exotic for Russia?
This happened in Sweden. There is a tournament there every year in which sponsors, fans, and players take part. That’s where I played golf for the first time, and I really liked it. The weather was good, the company was great – it’s relaxing for me. I got into golf, and even got myself golf clubs. I don’t have time for golf now, but I hope that after all the pre-season preparations the guys and I will get a chance to go play. There is a great spot in Skolkovo. I also like to play tennis. Overall, I like games – hockey, football, handball, basketball. Swimming or running don’t appeal to me as much.
Does your wife come to your games?
When she has time, she always comes and supports me. But she never gives me advice and never criticizes me, even if I didn’t play all that well.
What are the team’s main goals for this season?
I think that the team will be under more pressure this season than we were a year ago. Back then, people expected us to make it to playoffs, and there will be less of this now. Our coaching staff, headed up by Oleg Znarok, have an all-or-nothing approach, and will demand that we play to win every time. I like this approach, I like starting a game with the mindset that this is the final and deciding match. I like when there is a lot of motivation and the plank is set high.