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‘Miracle on Ice’ star Mark Pavelich dies in mental illness treatment center

Pavelich, who assisted on the winning goal against Russia in the 1980 Olympics, was being treated as part of a civil commitment for assaulting a neighbor.
In this Feb. 21, 2015, photo, Jack O'Callahan, left, and Mark Pavelich of the 1980 U.S. hockey team talk during a "Relive the Miracle" reunion at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. Pavelich died at a Minnesota treatment center for mental illness Thursday. He was 63. The cause and manner of death are pending.
In this Feb. 21, 2015, photo, Jack O'Callahan, left, and Mark Pavelich of the 1980 U.S. hockey team talk during a "Relive the Miracle" reunion at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. Pavelich died at a Minnesota treatment center for mental illness Thursday. He was 63. The cause and manner of death are pending. [ MIKE GROLL | AP ]
Published Mar. 6
Updated Mar. 6

MINNEAPOLIS — Olympic “Miracle on Ice” star Mark Pavelich was found dead in a Minnesota residential treatment center for mental illness. He was 63.

Pavelich died at Eagle’s Healing Nest on Thursday morning, officials in Anoka County confirmed Friday. The cause and manner of death were pending.

Pavelich was being treated as part of a civil commitment for assaulting a neighbor in Cook County, Minn., in August 2019.

Police said they were called to the center about 8:30 a.m. Thursday on a report of a death. Emergency dispatch audio disclosed that Pavelich had not been seen since 8 p.m. Wednesday, and responding personnel said he appeared to have been dead for several hours.

Pavelich was charged in Cook County District Court with beating his neighbor James T. Miller after the two went fishing in August 2019, after suspecting that Miller spiked his beer. Miller was treated for cracked ribs, a bruised kidney, a fracture to one of his vertebrae and other injuries.

Pavelich, a land developer and longtime Lutsen, Minn., resident, faced four felony counts, including two assault charges and two illegal weapons charges after authorities found firearms with altered serial numbers on his reclusive property.

Related: A broken star: Family hopes Olympic hockey player Mark Pavelich’s story helps others

In December 2019, District Judge Michael Cuzzo ruled that Pavelich was incompetent to stand trial because he was mentally ill and dangerous. The judge ordered him committed to a state-operated secure treatment facility in St. Peter.

Two clinical psychologists who examined Pavelich ahead of the order found him to have post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other conditions. Both found that he lacked insight into his mental illness and was opposing treatment.

However, Pavelich showed enough progress in treatment to win release last summer to the less restrictive treatment center in Sauk Centre.

One of Pavelich’s attorneys in connection with his civil commitment, Carolyn Bruno, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Recently Mark was filled with hope and renewal for the future. He had been thriving at the new facility since leaving St. Peter.”

Pavelich was due in court Tuesday for a review of his civil commitment and the granting of a six-month extension of his time at Eagle’s Healing Nest.

“Mark was dedicated to his recovery and had made great progress,” Bruno said. “Mark’s legal matters were moving in a positive direction.”

In recent years, family and friends have said, they watched Pavelich become confused, paranoid and borderline threatening. They said they came to believe that he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated blows to the head while playing hockey as a tenacious, undersized forward (listed at 5 feet 8, 170 pounds).

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, told the Star Tribune soon after the assault that the family was convinced that “all the concussions and the blows he had in the NHL” left him suffering from CTE, a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to erratic behavior and deaths among hockey and football players and others in sports that inflict trauma to the head.

“Mark is the most kind and gentle person you’d ever know,” said Gevik. “This is a totally different guy.”

A hockey star for Eveleth (Minn.) High School and then the University of Minnesota Duluth, Pavelich joined his U.S. teammates in winning gold in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

He assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal in the upset of the heavily favored Soviet Union in their medal-round game, which was referred to as the “Miracle on Ice” and inspired the movie “Miracle” in 2004. The United States then defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

Pavelich played in the NHL with the Rangers for five seasons and briefly joined the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. In 355 NHL games, he tallied 137 goals and 192 assists.

Out of the game since 1992, Pavelich lived quietly in Cook County, shunning the spotlight that was always there for him because of his Olympic fame.

His wife, Kara, died at age 44 in an accidental fall from a second-story balcony at their home in 2012. Two years later, Pavelich sold his gold medal for $262,900 at auction, saying he was not in financial trouble and just wanted to provide financial security for his adult daughter.

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