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From Miracle on Ice hero to rock-bottom: Mark Pavelich’s downfall truly heartbreaking

Dec 08, 2019 06:34AM ● By Editor
Mark Pavelich was a member of the 1980 US hockey team that won an Olympic gold medal.  Photo: file photo: Associated Press

By Kevin Paul Dupont of the Globe Staff from the Boston Globe - December 7, 2019

During his days on Broadway, zipping around in what was coach Herb Brooks’s novel, circle-back Ranger game plan, Mark Pavelich didn’t say much. One of the stars of the 1980 US Olympic team, “Pav” also was among the quietest Team USA players, then had little urge or inclination to talk upon coming to the big city to launch his NHL career.

The running joke, rooted in both truth and humor, was that he wouldn’t appear for postgame interviews on the Rangers’ TV broadcasts unless the payout included fishing gear that he could lug back home to Minnesota come springtime.

Pavelich, 61, on Wednesday was left with little to say, or perhaps was incapable of expressing anything, when Minnesota judge Michael Cuzzo deemed him mentally ill and dangerous, and ultimately incapable of standing trial for a felony assault charge.

In August, Pavelich allegedly beat a friend with a metal pole, inflicting a number of injuries, including cracked ribs, a bruised kidney, and a fractured vertebra. According to press accounts, Pavelich suspected his pal spiked his beer after a day of fishing around his home in the Lutsen, Minn., area, some 100 miles up the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth, where Pavelich played his college hockey prior to joining in the summer of ’79 what would become the beatified USA squad.

 Photo: Cook County MN Law Enforcement

Per Cuzzo’s ruling, Pavelich was assigned to a secure treatment facility, after two psychologists told the court that he suffered from a variety of ailments, including delusions, paranoia, and a neurocognitive disorder, the latter likely the consequence, said Dr. Jacqueline Buffington, of a traumatic brain injury. In the weeks leading up to this past week’s court date, per the psychologists, he both lacked insight into his mental illness and refused treatment.

Pavelich’s psychological status will be reevaluated in February. If improved, the trial will proceed. Family members since August have gone on record saying they believe his deteriorating mental state is related to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which they contend stems from head injuries suffered while playing hockey. To date, only an autopsy can confirm the presence of CTE.

Hard to imagine a steeper, sadder tumble into darkness. At least until now, Pavelich was destined to be remembered as a major player in that magical, upstart USA squad that beat the mighty Russians and went on to capture the gold at Lake Placid.

It was a fairy tale. All of it. One that seems even larger now nearly 40 years later. The place. The people. 

Pavelich, a sprite of a forward at only 5 feet 8 inches, assisted on Eruzione’s winning goal that sent the dumbstruck CCCP team home on a stretcher to Red Square.

The Miracle on Ice, conjured up in a quaint Adirondack village, remains among America’s most dramatic and cherished Olympic moments. US speedskater Eric Heiden won five gold medals at the same Games, but not even that ostentatious haul could muscle the ragtag Yanks out from under the enduring spotlight.

Eruzione, Craig, and crew are expected to gather again for their 40-year reunion in February when the Vegas Golden Knights host a two-day (21st-22nd) fete to celebrate their triumph. By that time, Pavelich will be on trial or still institutionalized in the Minnesota treatment facility. Or both.

For the most part, Pavelich experienced only modest NHL success, much of that perception based on the fact that the Rangers had short playoff runs in his time with them. He did pile up 329 points in 355 games — 233 of those in his first three seasons, by age 26. In today’s game, those numbers easily would have landed him a second contract of, say, $5 million a year or more.

In February 2015, purporting he wanted to help contribute to his daughter’s finances, Pavelich put his ’80 gold medal up for bids with Heritage Auctions. It sold for a reported $262,500. “You can’t put them in a house because it could burn or get stolen,” Eruzione noted to Yahoo! Sports at the time, noting the general impracticality of medals. “Then it’s just gone and useless.”

In September 2012, Kara Pavelich, his 44-year-old wife, fell to her death off a balcony at their home in Lutsen. Per reports, Kara, a well-known artist in the area, fell some 20 feet while likely attempting to find better reception for her cellphone.

Pavelich had not been back in Adirondack, shunning a number of requests through the decades, until a persistent teammate, Buzz Schneider, cajoled him into joining his teammates for a reunion in 2015, about the time he auctioned his medal.

“On stage with his teammates,” Wayne Coffey, then the fine scribe with the New York Daily News, wrote from Lake Placid, “Pavelich looked as if he wished he were under a snowbank.”

No telling what Pavelich wishes for these days, or if he has the capacity to wish, or laugh, or cry, or to survive. He is one of the Boys of Winter (Coffey’s book), forever connected with a moment in time, his life and memories gone somewhere now he may not even know.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Boston Globe website.
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