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Former Las Vegas Thunder enforcer Sasha Lakovic dies of cancer

Updated April 25, 2017 - 7:38 pm

He wasn’t around long, but Sasha Lakovic left a permanent impression on hockey in Las Vegas.

The pugnacious forward played 59 games over two seasons for the Las Vegas Thunder from 1995 to 1997 in the now-defunct International Hockey League. He scored only one goal with the Thunder, but he racked up 497 penalty minutes and endeared himself to fans and teammates. In 15 playoff games, he had a goal, an assist and 57 penalty minutes.

Lakovic died Tuesday in West Kelowna, British Columbia, after being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in October. He was 45.

“He was a tough player, but he had a heart of gold,” said Bob Strumm, the general manager who brought Lakovic to Las Vegas to add toughness to an already-tough team. “He was really popular with the fans, and his teammates loved him.

“I talked to him a couple of months ago, and he was having a tough time. It’s sad to hear that he’s gone.”

According to his website, Lakovic fought more than 100 times in his hockey career. In 12 professional seasons playing for 17 teams, Lakovic scored 90 goals and had 2,631 penalty minutes.

Strumm said he knew what he was getting when he brought Lakovic to the Thunder.

“We had a Gemini personalty with our team,” Strumm said. “We had skill, and we had toughness. We were among the league leaders in points and scoring, and we were among the leaders in penalty minutes.”

Nicknamed the “Pit Bull,” Lakovic, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, realized his dream of playing in the NHL. He played 19 games with the Calgary Flames in 1996-97 and 18 with the New Jersey Devils in 1997-98 and 1998-99. He never scored in the NHL, but he had four assists and 117 penalty minutes.

“The game was different back then,” said Strumm, citing the need of enforcers who would stand up for their teammates and keep watch over the more talented and skilled players. “He fought a lot in the minors just to get there, but I was so happy for him when he made it to the NHL.”

In 2004, with his hockey career winding down, Lakovic tried his hand as an actor. He appeared in the movie “Miracle,” the story of the USA’s gold medal run at the 1980 Winter Olympics. He played Soviet star player Boris Mikhailov.

“In his own way, Sasha is preserved in hockey history forever because of that movie,” Strumm said.

Lakovic is survived by his wife and four children. Funeral arrangements were unknown.

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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