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Mark Pavelich, Miracle on Ice Olympic hockey player, dies at 63

Mark Pavelich

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: American hockey player Mark Pavelich #16 of Team USA in action during the 1980 exhibition game against the Soviet Union on February 9, 1980 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Bruce Bennett

Mark Pavelich, a 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey forward on the Miracle on Ice team, died Thursday, according to USA Hockey and the NHL. He was 63.

Pavelich died at the Eagle’s Healing Nest, a treatment center for mental illness, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, according to Anonka County officials. The cause and manner of death are still pending.

Pavelich was undergoing treatment at the home as part of a civil commitment for assaulting his neighbor in August 2019.
Pavelich had two assists in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games medal round. The U.S. then beat Finland to win the gold medal. Pavelich later played for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams.

At 5 feet, 7 inches, Pavelich was the shortest player on the Olympic team. He spoke softly, when at all, and avoided the spotlight. The Minnesota native was described by one teammate as a “hockey genius.”

“He’s like an artist, painting a picture going down the ice,” Buzz Schneider, a fellow member of the “Iron Rangers” or “Coneheads” line with Pavelich and John Harrington, said in 2015 while waving his hand with a whoosh. “He could see different things, dish that puck off and go across the grain.”

Pavelich was the second 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player to die, after Bob Suter in 2014. Coach Herb Brooks died in 2003.

Pavelich, labeled reclusive, did not attend the team’s reunion to light the cauldron at the 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Salt Lake City.

In 2015, Pavelich drove from Oregon to Minnesota, then to Lake Placid with a childhood friend for a 35-year Olympic team reunion that also paid tribute to Suter. He said it was his first time in Lake Placid since 1980.

In 2019, Pavelich was charged with felony assault, but a judge found he was incompetent to stand trial because he was mentally ill and dangerous.

According to the judge’s order, a psychologist found Pavelich was suffering from delusions and paranoia. Another psychologist found he suffered from a mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, likely related to repeated head injuries.
Pavelich’s family members said in 2019 they believe he suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, after repeated concussions from his time in the NHL. They said they started seeing changes in him a few years earlier, and he had refused help.

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, said in 2019 that her brother’s situation was “heartbreaking.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.