In 2004, I was sitting in a movie theater watching “Miracle” starring Kurt Russell. I couldn’t wait to see what Disney had done with the true story about the infamous 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. Shortly after the movie started, I spit my drink out. There, on the screen staring back to me as the captain of the Soviet hockey team, was my friend and former Las Vegas Thunder International Hockey League player, Sasha Lakovic.
Lakovic and I had lost contact after he left Las Vegas in 1996 to play hockey in the NHL, but his career playing for the Las Vegas Thunder was more than memorable. He had a charisma that brought fans into the Thomas &Mack Center in droves. People weren’t just coming for hockey. They were coming to see what Lakovic would do next. Off the ice, his persona didn’t change. He was always sticking up for the underdog. Nicknamed “The Pitbull” (he had 419 penalty minutes in one season with the Thunder), I knew him to be kind and generous.
Before Lakovic departed Las Vegas to play in the NHL, he told me that he would be in movies someday. This was after being an extra in a St. Ides commercial, where he met and partied with Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. While other people may have rolled their eyes at such a broad goal, the Lakovic I knew meant what he said. He embraced every opportunity that came his way, including jumping over the glass during an NHL game to defend his coach after a drunk fan poured a drink on him.
I reconnected with Lakovic years later through his cousin Dino Milacic of MioDino Racing. Now retired from the NHL, Lakovic flew out from Canada to visit and do an interview with me for an ezine. He was about to play a Russian soldier in a movie titled “Afghan Knights” and was lining something up to co-star in a hockey movie with actor Keanu Reeves. Lakovic was also thinking about another trip through Boulder City, a place he loved and thought fondly of. Lakovic had visited Lake Mead when he played for the Thunder. I can still remember him describing the man-made beauty to his brother, Gary.
Much like Boris Mikhailov, who he played in “Miracle,” Lakovic had a resilience to him that made him extraordinary. He embraced everything he did, whether it was hanging around Lake Mead on a quiet day, riding his bike through Henderson to “pump up” for his IHL game that night or stepping out of a career in the NHL and into motion pictures.
IMDB.com describes the movie “Miracle” as an “inspiring story of the team that transcended its sport and united a nation with a new feeling of hope.” The movie couldn’t have been more fitting, for its plot was who Lakovic was at his core. He didn’t accept “no” or “can’t” as words. He was a go-big-or-go-home person who didn’t care what you did in life, as long as you did it well.
Lakovic’s legacy from his time with the Las Vegas Thunder still carries throughout Southern Nevada and beyond. Not too many people can say they played in the NHL and acted opposite Kurt Russell. Then again, Lakovic made the impossible probable.
Last October, Milacic contacted me with bad news. My friend Lakovic was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Without hesitation, he fought his hardest until his passing in April at 45 years old. And while there is no question that “Miracle” is my recommend Throwback Thursday movie tie-in to Boulder City this week, I think it is important that we spend every day living life Sasha Lakovic style: with the heart of a pit bull and an unwavering need to try everything once, to take no guff off of anyone — ever — to mean what you say and to be relentless when it comes to goals, because you never know where life will take you.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.