Luke Radetic thought his hockey career might be over.
Radetic grew up getting coached by one of the best American goal scorers of all time. He spent his childhood playing with a friend who is now in the NHL.
Radetic was on the cover of USA Hockey Magazine in January 2015, put up eight goals and eight assists in 51 games for the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues of the North American Hockey League last season, and then … nothing.
He spent training camp with the Blues, got cut, then also was cut from the Topeka (Kansas) RoadRunners of the NAHL.
“I was just sitting at home,” said Radetic, a 19-year-old forward from Chesterfield, Missouri. “I wasn’t even going to play. I was going to school at semester.”
That’s when Radetic’s hockey adviser told Radetic to give Brown Bears head coach Jeff Worlton a call.
Worlton wanted Radetic to travel all the way to the Kenai Peninsula to play for the Brown Bears.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward sought the advice of his parents, Dana and Joe Radetic, and his friends.
“My parents were big,” Radetic said. “They told me I should end my hockey career on my own terms.
“Don’t let a couple of coaches make the decision for you.”
All of Radetic’s friends told him college would always be there, but junior hockey would not. Cole Chatham, who played in the NAHL last season before he was sidelined by a back injury, was particularly influential.
“He told me, ‘If I had the option to play, I’d still give anything to play hockey again,’” Radetic said.
And so one day Radetic was in the store shopping for winter clothes, and the next he was on the plane to Alaska. He would end up in Kasilof with billet parents Lee and Sandra Berzanske.
Radetic made his debut for the Bears on Oct. 21 against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, and has six goals and two assists in 10 games. Four goals have come on the power play, with two coming five-on-three.
Radetic said the goals have come due to his teammates’ playmaking on the power play, and due to his experience.
“It’s my second year in the league,” he said. “Having one year under my belt is a pretty big deal.
“I’m old enough that I can play a leadership role and I don’t have to grip the stick tight. I can just go out there and have fun.”
Worlton said he does not know why Radetic did not stick in Springfield or Topeka. But it did not take the coach long to pinpoint a weakness in the forward’s game.
Radetic was called into Worlton’s office on just his second day with the Bears.
“He told me I had Division I skill, but that I needed to be gritty,” Radetic said. “He said I didn’t touch one person in practice that day.”
Worlton gave Radetic the nickname “Bruiser,” and so far it seems to be working. Wednesday after practice, his face was all scuffed up from battle drills with teammates including Jonas Warmen, who is 6-2 and 218.
“I’ve only had 10 games, but I’m working on it for sure,” Radetic said. “In practice doing battle drills, going against guys like Jonas is definitely good for me.”
Scoring for Radetic has never been the problem.
“One, he has that confidence and that sense of arrogance you need to be able to put the puck in the net,” Worlton said. “He also has a quick release on his shot.”
That’s hardly surprising because Radetic learned from one of the best.
From fifth grade to his sophomore year, Radetic’s assistant coach in the St. Louis Blues AAA program was Keith Tkachuk. Tkachuk wrapped up a 19-year NHL career as one of five American-born players to score at least 500 goals.
Because former NHL players are sticking around and coaching in St. Louis, the area has seen a blossoming of elite talent after not placing a player in the NHL in the 20th century.
This was the focus of USA Hockey Magazine in January 2015, when Radetic was on the cover with Tkachuk and others.
Radetic said he made the cover because some of his more accomplished friends were off doing bigger and better things.
Tkachuk’s son, Matthew, is an 18-year-old rookie for the Calgary Flames.
Also, Luke Kunin is a sophomore captain at the University of Wisconsin and was taken 15th in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild.
Radetic said he worked out with both the past summer and that their dedication and talent is incredible.
While Worlton said Radetic has a goal-scoring arrogance, he said Radetic’s arrogance extends no further than that.
“He’s very coachable,” Worlton said. “The kid can put the puck in the net, and some goal scorers can be difficult to deal with.
“But he’s trying to buy in and become a better defensive player and blocking shots.”
Seeing his hockey life flash before his eyes may have been just the thing Radetic needed.
“It made me realize if you really want something, you have to go after it,” he said. “I’ve always been a goal scorer, but what coaches say is I have to add grit to my game to get where I want to be.
“You can’t be soft and play at this level, or at college, too.”