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'Miracle' hockey star Mark Pavelich found dead in treatment facility
Star Tribune - 3/5/2021
Olympic "Miracle" hockey star Mark Pavelich was found dead Thursday in a central Minnesota residential treatment center, sources close to Minnesota sports legend said Thursday.
Pavelich, who turned 63 a week ago, died at Eagle's Healing Nest, where he was receiving mental health treatment for the past several months, the sources told the Star Tribune. At the time of his death he was under civil commitment for a violent assault on a North Shore neighbor nearly 1½ years ago,
Police said emergency personnel were called to the residence 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. There is no initial indication pointing to what led to his death.
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, 63, was treated for cracked ribs, a bruised kidney, a fracture to one of his vertebrae and other injuries.
Pavelich, of Lutsen, 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.
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, he then showed enough progress in treatment to win release late this past summer from St. Peter to the less restrictive treatment center in Sauk Centre, where he had been living until his death.
In recent years, family and friends have said, they watched the public-averse Pavelich become confused, paranoid and borderline threatening. They said they came to believe that he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy — commonly known as CTE — caused by repeated blows to the head while playing hockey as a tenacious, undersized forward.
The NHL has faced criticism for its handling of head injuries despite a long list of rules, studies and league-player committees focused on enhancing player safety. The league reached a court settlement in 2018 with hundreds of retired players who claimed harm from head injuries while playing, but the NHL admitted no fault or wrongdoing. Pavelich did not make a claim, his family has said.
A hockey star for Eveleth High School and then the University of Minnesota Duluth, Pavelich joined his U.S. teammates in winning gold in the 1980 Olympics. He assisted on Mike Eruzione's winning goal in a stunning upset of the heavily favored Soviet Union in their medal-round game of the tournament, referred to as the "Miracle on Ice." Team USA went on to defeat Finland to win the gold.
Pavelich played with the New York Rangers for five seasons and briefly joined the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. Out of the game since 1992, he has lived quietly in Cook County, shunning the spotlight that was also there for him thanks to his Olympic fame.
His wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from a balcony at their home in 2012, and several years later, Pavelich sold his gold medal for more than $250,000 in an auction.
Star Tribune staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
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