Sasha 'Pit Bull' Lakovic speaks out about the devastating effects of concussion
Former hockey tough guy says he is suffering as a result of all the concussions he sustained
Sasha "Pit Bull" Lakovic earned his nickname punching his way through jobs with 17 different pro hockey teams. But now at age 44 the former enforcer says he's suffering the consequences of the many concussions he sustained during his playing days.
"The issues I suffer are deep," Lakovic told CBC. "Depression, emotional anger, insomnia, the anxiety is high. You just want to feel normal, you just want to feel like you can breathe, but everything is stressful."
Fought over 100 times
Lakovic fought more than 100 times in his career, taking on heavyweights like Bob Probert and George Lararque. He played 37 games in the NHL with Calgary and New Jersey, and many more in the minor leagues over a 12-year career that ended in 2002.
Lakovic says he's not sure how many concussions he suffered but recalls "five to ten times...waking up with someone holding me in a dream-like effect."
"You wouldn't tell the coaches or trainer that you felt bad," he said. "If they knew something was up they'd give you some smelling salts. You just got used to having your bell rung or being punch drunk."
Lakovic said the word 'concussion" wasn't ever part of the hockey lexicon in his day.
It's now known that athletes who suffer repetitive head trauma risk chronic traumatic encephalopath — or CTE — a degenerative brain disease which can cause all manner of mental health problems including depression, memory loss, confusion and impaired judgment.
CTE is suspected to be a contributing factor in the premature deaths of a number of hockey enforcers including Probert and Derek Boogaard.
In September the spectre of CTE was raised again when former NHL tough guy Todd Ewen committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Lakovic, who grew up in East Vancouver and now calls West Kelowna home, is married with four children. He says he's managing to cope thanks to the love and help of family, and hopes his story will help others — especially hockey parents — realize the very real and long term devastation of concussion.
Something you don't want your kid to have
"If your kid ever hits the boards or tells you 'dad, I'm not feeling so well,' that's a real message," said an emotional Lakovic. "I know a lot of parents want to see their kid make the NHL, but this is something you don't want your kid to have."
"When you live day-to-day with it, and you see the people that you hurt, and you wonder why these guys are blowing themselves away — it's a true thing, it's happening. People deny it's happening. The NHL denies it's happening. But look around."
To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: Enforcer Sasha Lakovic's message to hockey parents: Take concussion seriously
With files from Brady Strachan