Miracle For Former Toledo Players Eruzione, Lakovic

By Dan Saevig
Toledo Blade Sports Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio – One lived a miracle, the other made one happen.

When you’re talking about Mike Eruzione and Sasha Lakovic, the statement applies to both.

Eruzione lives in Boston. Lakovic calls Coquitlam, B.C., home. They’re both in the spotlight of what Sports Illustrated called sport’s greatest moment of the 20th century.

The two – without knowing it or each other – have been joined by a moment in time and their ties to Toledo.

Eruzione spent back-to-back seasons with the Goaldiggers of the International Hockey League, helping the Ted Garvin-coached team to a Turner Cup championship in his rookie campaign, 1977-78.

Lakovic was a popular member, for 24 games, of the 1993-94 Chris McSorley-led Storm club that won the East Coast Hockey League’s Riley Cup, and he also played 27 games for Columbus (Ohio) of the ECHL in 1992-93. Lakovic played for Long Beach in 2000-01 and Bakersfield and Anchorage, now Alaska, in 2001-02 when the three were members of the now defunct West Coast Hockey League.

Both are now drinking from the chalice of success that has been created by the hit Disney movie Miracle, the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and its coach Herb Brooks, which shocked the world by winning the gold medal.

Eruzione was the captain of that squad. It was his game-winning goal in the semifinal game against captain Boris Mikhailov and the elite Soviet Union unit that helped propel a group of mostly college kids to immortality and broadcaster Al Michaels to ask: “Do you believe in miracles?”

Lakovic does.

A tough guy for the Storm who went on to play in the National Hockey League with Calgary and New Jersey, he’s also a captain.

Lakovic protrays Mikhailov in the film, which since its debut Feb. 6 has grossed more than $40 million.

“I found out through the grapevine that they were doing a movie [in neighboring Vancouver],” Lakovic said. “I thought, ‘I’m probably one of the top hockey players here that’s not playing now.’”

Lakovic, a martial arts instructor and personal trainer, had to go through a cattle call to sell himself on camera.

As he proved in Toledo, sales calls are no problem.

This is the same Lakovic who left a stranded Storm team bus at 2:30 a.m. near the end of a 15-hour blizzard outside of Louisville. He strapped on his skates and began motoring up and down the ice rink that was I-65, serving as a hawker for tow trucks who were looking for business.

Lakovic made $5 a tow. Sixteen runs later, the entrepreneur had earned about a third of his weekly take-home salary.

“My Yugoslavian accent is close to Russian,” Lakovic said. “When the directors came in, I just put on a show.”

He made the show, participating in a sequel to a real-life drama he can’t remember.

“I didn’t really understand the whole thing because I was only eight or nine,” Lakovic said. “When I saw Brooks [on the set], it really dawned on me.”

That was last summer, before the USA coach died in a car accident.

“Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks was eerie,” Eruzione said. “He had him right down to the way he chewed gum. There were some things I would have changed, but I’d say the movie is 90-95 percent dead on.”

Lakovic said that’s because the actors – much like the scene in the movie when Brooks skated his players up and down the rink for an hour after a tie against Norway – repeated things over and over.

“We were on the ice all day long, six days a week,” said Lakovic of filming that began at 8 a.m. and often wouldn’t end until midnight. “Guys were going nuts. My feet were numb for two weeks after we got done shooting.”

Numb is a little how Eruzione felt when he first heard about Miracle.

“My initial reaction was, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” said Eruzione, who on March 17 will return to Toledo and appear at the Storm’s game versus Reading. “Then I thought, ‘Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.’ When you send it to Hollywood, you never know what’s going to happen. I said to them, ‘Get the goal right and get the anthem scene right.’”

It may be one of the few times where a sequel compares favorably to an original. Critics, box office officials and movie-goers have joined Eruzione in applauding the production.

“It’s been insane,” said Eruzione, now 49. “It’s a part of my life that was special to me and a whole nation, and now there’s almost a new generation that feels the same way.”

The ex-Digger, who retired from hockey after mining gold in order to hit the motivational speaking circuit, is normally featured at about 30 events a year. He already has that many scheduled in the next three to four months.

“The guys from that team have got smiles on their faces because they’re making money now,” Lakovic said.

Lakovic is smiling too. He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and the director and casting director of Miracle have talked about using his martial arts skills in action flicks.

That’s exciting to the former Storm player, whose old team hosts Idaho tonight at the Sports Arena at 7:30. But after being involved with the project from Christmas of 2002 until last October, he said there’s something that means even more.

“I may not do anything else with hockey or the movies,” said Lakovic, 32. “If I don’t, I can look back and say, ‘I helped record history on film.’”

For that, Lakovic’s predecessor in Toledo is grateful.

“It’s a feel-good story,” Eruzione said. “You can take your family and not be embarrassed. The movie captured the spirit of the nation and what it meant to us. Older people will see it and they’ll remember. The younger kids will go and hopefully they’ll dream, set goals and learn that with a little work you can reach your dreams.”