There’s a voice Alberta boxer Janick Lacroix hears when he steps in the ring.
“Keep your hands up!”
The words are part of many memories Lacroix holds for Mike Kucik, his coach who was shot to death at the age of 76 in an unexplainable tragedy in small-town Saskatchewan.
Lacroix was only 13 when the shooting happened and didn’t understand why his coach of almost two years was gone.
“It was a really tough day and I thought this can’t be true,” remembered Lacroix the morning after losing the gold medal bout at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta. “I got depressed and I thought that’s it. I’m not going to box again.”
Kucik was a lifelong fan of the fight game from Ponteix, Sask. He boxed as a young man and had been in many a corner in the decades that followed as a trainer. No one really knows what happened, but it is believed a long-time friend shot Kucik before taking his own life.
“Mike meant a lot to me. He was like my second dad. He taught me to respect my opponent no matter what, to work hard and not to be scared of anyone,” says Lacroix. “He was my mentor and a great guy all around.”
Kerry Fahlman attended Kucik’s funeral in the summer of 2016 and told Lacroix he would take up his friend’s coaching mantle if the lad wanted to relocate three hours west to Medicine Hat. With his mom’s blessing, Janick took the offer and resumed training. Now 16, he lives on his own, trains seven days a week and attends Grade 11 at Medicine Hat High School.
“I definitely fought for my old coach Mike. I always fight for him. Everything I do is for him now,” says Lacroix. “Even when Kerry’s talking, I’ll hear Mike’s voice. He’s always with me.”
Born and raised in small-town Quebec, Lacroix’s family moved west to Saskatchewan when he was 7 years old. A few years later, when a hockey buddy asked if he wanted to join him at boxing, Lacroix found his new passion.
“I saw Janick the day after dad was killed and he was devastated,” says Kucik’s daughter Sharon. ”My dad did his coaching out of his garage and Janick just stood in the garage and cried so hard. He started punching the big bag that was hanging in there, and just kept punching it so hard. Even though I was devastated and still in shock I had to reach out to him and try to console him.
“I know for a fact that my dad will always be with him. Janick had so much respect for my dad.”
Lacroix has had 47 fights in his young career. He won a silver medal at the 2017 Canadian national boxing championships, took gold in 2018 in the 70-kilogram class and was named Alberta’s boxer of the year. After his loss in the Canada Games final to Ontario’s Mohammed Zawadi, Lacroix was already looking forward to a potential rematch at the nationals in Victoria in April. He knows he’ll have extra help in his corner.
“Mike treated me like his son. He checked on me every morning, made sure I did my training and ate well, did my homework. He was a great role model,” says Lacroix
In his pocket, Lacroix keeps a silver locket engraved with a pair of boxing gloves on one side and “Enjoy the Journey” on the other. Inside are two pictures: one of a young boxer named Mike Kucik, the other shows Kucik and a boy with dreams of being an Olympic champion. In the other pocket is a Canada Winter Games silver medal.