David M Singer
Jan 21, 2005
Sasha Lakovic grew up in East Vancouver with dreams of becoming a star hockey player in the NHL. When he finally arrived in “The Show” in 1996 with the Calgary Flames, it was only after a long and winding road through numerous leagues and the unexpected role of being a fighter.
Though his NHL career proved to be a short one, he captured fans' imagination while playing for an incredible 21 professional teams during his career. His passion for hockey, approachableness, and obvious love for the fans still captures the attention and adoration of us today.
With his hockey career winding down, Lakovic has turned increasing attention towards his family, martial arts training, and a possible acting career, bolstered by his appearance in the hit movie Miracle. In our recent interview with him, Sasha demonstrates the unmistakable enthusiasm for the game that made him a cult hero, while also revealing that the dreams of becoming a hockey star have never faded away.
Singer: According to hockeydb.com you started in the Colonial Hockey League, but did you play Junior B or anything? How did you get your start there?
Lakovic: I played Junior B in Vancouver for the Grandview Steelers and my last year of Junior B I ended up playing with my brother a bit with the PoCo Buckaroos, outside of Vancouver. I played a little Junior A, but that really did not help.
Singer: I noticed that you played roller hockey with him a little bit as well.
Lakovic: Yeah, a little bit in San Jose but he did not stick around too long, and that is too bad, because we could have had lots of fun. I have a phone conversation coming up with a Senior Men’s League that I have been playing in throughout northern Canada. I got into a little altercation. I was playing with my brother and Gino Odjick up there and actually putting up some points. I went there to play and everything, but one thing led to another and now I have to find out if I am ever going to be allowed to play this year up there.
Singer: Oh really? What was the incident? What took place?
Lakovic: Well, they suspended me for one game, after I think my fourth game up there, even though I had not received any penalties. The referee that kicked me out of the game, he gave me a match penalty, basically for protecting myself every time somebody would try to run me. I was good on my feet, and the other guy would fall so I would get the two minutes for whatever, roughing, even though I wasn’t doing that. I was basically laughing. That happened about three times before I turned around and said, “Hey listen, can you lay off a little bit.” He said, “What’s that?” and I said, “There are two fucking teams out there, would you like, you know, give it a break?” Then he said, “That’s it, you’re gone.” Then I gave him that gesture for the 10-minute misconduct too. At this point he goes “See you next week; you got a match,” and I was like “Oh my god, you gotta be kidding me.” Then I skated off.
Singer: So how did that lead to them wanting to suspend you for the season?
Lakovic: So I was sitting out and my brother was playing the next game. I guess that the other team that we were playing that night had a goon on the team to simply to go out there and try to hurt somebody. My brother was not there to do anything, but just to protect another player on the ice. As I was watching from the bench area, this big goon reached for my brother from off the bench, started grabbing my brother while the two linesmen were holding my brother right on the bench. Nobody was doing anything, no officials were stepping in, and the linesmen were just holding my brother under each arm while this big guy was lacing up big bombs at his head, off of the bench. So I stepped in, got in a little scuffle, and that was it. I really did not do much, but they want to suspend me for the year because of the reputation that I have. So it is brutal because I was having a fun playing with him and it was the most fun hockey I have played in a long time.
Singer: We have a couple of people watching that league since you, Gino and Dody Wood was supposed to play too.
Lakovic: Yeah, he is playing there now seriously. So, you know, I mean, obviously I am in the business for fighting, right? I was not stepping in that league to do that sort of stuff. I mean, my record clearly shows that in the first three games that I was played I was the leading goal scorer in three games with no penalties. So it is hard to say. There is also some racial stuff going on up there that I was really surprised to see and that kind of bothered me a little bit.
Singer: Really? What was said?
Lakovic: I heard some racial comments from some of the other fans in another building calling me a wagon burner. They also yelled at Gino Odjick in the penalty box of all people!
Singer: One of your memorable fights was in the IHL against Barry Potomski of the Phoenix Roadrunners. What are your memories of this fight?
Lakovic: I was going through some records of mine, through my drawers, and I found, I think it was written on your site something about me fighting Barry Potomski and going down on all fours. What happened was I ended up knocking Barry Potomski down and got the better of him and then he got back up and came at me. He got away from his linesman, and I knocked him out again; and at the same time the linesman grabbed me and I drilled off of him and went to center ice and went down on all fours on my own. So I was not punched to the ground.
Singer: Most of the fighters that were playing your role who were up in the NHL the time you played always seemed to want to have a go with Bob Probert and I remember you after that fight, almost more than the fight itself, being pumped up and everything. Was that a goal of yours as well - to try to have a go with him and gain your reputation that way?
Lakovic: Well, that was my third fight of the game on opening night in Chicago; and it was funny to me, in the sense that here is a guy that I looked at as a kid, saying, “wow, this guy is unbelievable and probably the toughest in the league.” Then the coach whistled at him in Chicago to move over to my side of the ring to fight me. I kind of got a chuckle out of that and he was saying “are you ready to go kid” or something like that. To have knocked him down a couple of times before I went down it felt pretty good. Yeah, it felt good.
Singer: When you were in Calgary you came to a team that was being ruled by Sandy McCarthy in the fight department. Did you have any sort of relationship with him, discussing fighting, learning on the job, or anything like that?
Lakovic: I knew that Sandy had the big contract and he was their guy. I mean there was no way I would have taken his spot, but they were looking for another guy and they were telling me about contracts that were up and who they were looking for. The year before I had racked up a huge amount of penalties in Las Vegas and basically I just went there knowing who were the guys I had to take out for the job, and I did it. As far as knowing Sandy McCarthy and talking to him and stuff: he was on the opposite team in the inter squad scrimmages, and I was not going to go up knowing that he has a job and try to take that away from him.
Singer: So you did not go after him in training camp or anything?
Lakovic: No I did not go at him in training camp.
Singer: What about in Jersey? You were there at the same time as Oliwa, any training camp experiences with him?
Lakovic: With Oliwa? Yup! I think that we fought twice, we fought twice on the same inter squad game, and then the coaches came in and said “Guys, stop it because you guys are going to be teammates” and that was pretty good.
Singer: And that’s it? That ends it right there?
Lakovic: Yup, yup, I went at him right away and then he came back at the end of one of my shifts. A Jersey paper said he got the better of me, but that was wrong.
Lakovic: No, no, not at all. The first time I gave it to him and the second time I was on the ice he jumped me and I did not go down. I pretty much just held on because I was so frigging tired.
Singer: Going back to Calgary, when that fan spilled the beer on Flames' Assistant Coach Guy Lapointe, what’s your version of what happened? From the video you really cannot see much, you just see a fan dumping a drink and it looked like you were the only guy on the bench who noticed.
Lakovic: Yeah, he spilled a rum and coke. In the first period there were some people from out of town, from Henderson, that were warned behind the bench to settle down because they were threatening Theo Fleury and yelling to the coaching staff about Theo. As the game proceeded they switched the security attendants who were sitting right beside them in the third period. By then these guys were really just tanked so they proceeded to stand up during the third to see if security was around, and they were just taunting and screaming at us again. Finally security came in and started kicking them out and the guy picked up his rum and coke and threw it out on Guy Lapointe’s head. That is why I noticed it so fast, because we were watching, and we were all pretty tentative that they might do something, so that is why it looks like that. As far as that guy that threw the coke, he then tried the popcorn next, but he missed is what happened. Watch the replay and you will see that Guy got him pretty good with his Stanley Cup ring. He won’t say that, but he got him pretty good.
Singer: See, that is what we are missing! We did not know any of that.
Lakovic: Nobody knew that! They want to downplay that sort of stuff.
Singer: Well, of course, but I mean look what happened this year in Detroit with the Pistons-Pacers game…
Lakovic: Exactly, I mean, honestly Guy and I looked at that the next day in the sauna, we both looked at each other and thought, “You know what? You never know.” Something happens, an altercation happens, and people don’t know. People say the irate things, GMs say irate things about players, and really people do not know the inside story and that is a shame? That is the same thing that goes on with the basketball players; you do not know what they are going through. These are million dollar players with fans jumping in on them and you can’t have that. I mean, with hockey, look at it! Luckily there’s glass, but can you imagine if the fans were right there getting a hand out like they do near the hockey bench while a player goes by? The bottom line is: don’t interfere with the players.
Singer: You keep in great shape, what is your routine like?
Lakovic: Focus, I like to focus, and I like to smudge. Smudging is an Indian thing that you do with an eagle feather. Then I like to thank a certain general, General Lee, who is a Chinese general who is really well known for his thoughts on life and such. So I am multi-focused. I look at my religion and I see the struggles from where my family came from and I try to just do right. So that is a lot of my training, because that is what carries me on to train harder. As far as boxing in a gym and my martial arts class, I try to go four to five times a week if I could get there. If not, I try to spend time with family.
Singer: I see, so you attribute a lot of it to mental strength?
Lakovic: That is it exactly, and a lot of that is your eating habits too. I mean your whole persona on how you train and where your goals are. Yeah, a lot of it is physical, but then a lot of it is eating too, half of it is eating and half of it is mental. So I like to say you take everything in moderation, but make sure you know where you think you are going or what you think you are doing.
Singer: You have been in a bunch of leagues. Can you give us any sort of insight on the debate, let’s say, between where a guy who is playing an enforcer role might have his hardest time getting his break? Is it all the way up to the top minor league in the American Hockey League (or IHL when it was in existence), or is the fighting just as rough down in the AA leagues?
Lakovic: The toughest time is probably dealing with the reputation you get with it. When you put all of your heart into something that you believe you are doing right to put food in your mouth, but just get that bad reputation, it is pretty tough. If you look at a lot of fighters that are out there and what they are going through, a lot of them have some stuff in the closet that they do not really want to show. Being tough, that is one of the hardest jobs, and getting that reputation; for example, a lot of us fighters out there in the Quebec league have to just live with it, you know? So if you are in the business of fighting you would have to not worry about what anybody says.
Singer: Well, you have kind of a wild reputation. That had to come from somewhere, right?
Lakovic: Yeah, sure enough. Just like I said, where I came from, that’s what I see, what I know, and what it takes. My ultimate goal was to play hockey. I love playing the game, but I hated playing the game when I had to fight. I put that hate into making it work better for myself.
Singer: So you would easily rather come back as just a player?
Lakovic: A player who still does his job. I am pegged as a fighter; I cannot let that go. Teams want that and they need that. As far as playing in the NHL, with the rules changing and less fights, I think that is great. I wish I had the chance. I was playing with the Brendan Morrisons. I was playing with the Iginlas on the same line. I was right there. Why wouldn’t I get better as they progressed? Because I was not given that chance. Why didn’t I play on the home stand when we already took first place in New Jersey? Because they never gave me the chance. I could sit at the bottom of the deck and stay there as long as the GMs want me to stay there. I am a player that if I start scoring goals and fighting then I could start stepping up, but they don’t want that, like what the league and the owners and the GMs are trying to do right now.
Singer: Are you saying that they are completely trying to separate everything?
Lakovic: Exactly, exactly. If they were to give me a chance, if they were to say, “Okay you go on this team and go and play that way,” well then you have to go and play that way. Yeah, that is how I made it to the NHL, but I never had the same opportunity in games as I did during practice. No one could see me dangling around guys, nobody has seen me scoring on the Martin Brodeurs, you know what I mean? I was not allowed to do that in the games- to put up the points where I could show my stuff because I was in the stands until we played a tough team.
Singer: The fans always love a guy who can score and fight, but what you are saying is that the general managers basically do not allow that to even happen any more?
Lakovic: They do not like it to happen that’s for sure. I mean look at how long it took Simon to break out, a fighter that turned into a goal scorer one year, remember? He was given all the time and all of the patience. He did not have to fight any more, because the guys respected him, he did his job and he does not have to do it as much, so then he gets the chance to play. But I went through the league and did my job to be tough and never got that chance. He was lucky he got the chance to play because some of the owners said let’s let him go and let’s give him more ice time.
Singer: How did things go up in Quebec during your brief stay in the LNAH?
Lakovic: I was just there for two games. I went to check things out. I got some offers from some other teams there, some looks from the American Hockey League and a couple of NHL squads, so I am thinking of getting back out there and showing the hockey world what I am still capable of.
Singer: So was that just a tryout?
Lakovic: Well yeah, a tryout for them to have me there and a tryout for me if I wanted to be there.
Singer: You got into a couple of bouts, went twice with one guy?
Lakovic: You know I really could not tell you. I had one fight there and then I was in the penalty box and then I was asked to come out of the penalty box by one of my teammates and the coaches and then I ended up fighting 3 or 4 guys. I couldn’t really recall, so I am waiting for the tape. I am trying to figure out what the scars on my face are from, because I know I really did not get hit.
Singer: So with you playing again in these leagues, is your goal to revive your hockey career again?
Lakovic: Well, I never really wanted to leave hockey. It is just that at my age and having two kids now, I have another life. Playing in those leagues you are not really going anywhere, you know, unless your goal is to play with the big dogs, right? You’re going to be stuck in these young leagues, or move up, or you are out. You have your contract there, but that is all you have, it is just hockey and you do not have anything else. So that is why I am looking towards a movie career and my martial arts that I have been doing that all my life and stepping in the ring…
Singer: Do you plan on continuing with the total combat competitions?
Lakovic: I am working on it. I am training at a different facility, besides my Kung Fu, which I have done all my life. I have been working on my grappling and my mixed martial arts, just in case I want to go that way; and I have been stepping up my boxing, since there is the Olympics in Beijing coming up in 2008. You know there is a lot of stuff that I have been looking at. It is not that I have turned my hockey career away, but I am in phenomenal shape, so I can step into it any time I want to.
Singer: Do you think you would be able to get past your reputation if you wanted to continue playing hockey? Or do you think that’s it, you have to be a fighter, and you are nailed down to that?
Lakovic: Yeah, it’s the same with every other fighter. If you were to pay me to play hockey, I would play hockey, believe me. I will make the cleanest hits, I’ll make the nice plays, I’ll get some nice shots, I’ll get there and I will play a clean game. But if I am getting paid to fight and doing that job, obviously I am going to get ridiculed for doing my job and people are going to say stuff. So yeah, I am going to get that reputation, and I am always going to have that reputation of “oh, you know, he’s crazy.” I hear it from people around that I do not even know, until they meet me and then they are like “there is nothing wrong with you, man.” I got an on/off switch and I know how to use it.
You can visit Sasha's personal website at www.sashalakovic.com.
Special thanks to Dino Milacic and Jon Porus.
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