‘Miracle on Ice’ player Pavelich found incompetent to stand trial

GRAND MARAIS, Minn.—A player on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic gold-winning hockey team was found incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case involving charges that he beat a friend with a metal pole.

The case against Mark Pavelich, 61, of Lutsen, Minn., was suspended while Cook County authorities will petition to have Pavelich civilly committed to treatment.

In a hearing late Monday morning, district Judge Michael Cuzzo told Pavelich that a psychologist’s report “indicates you need some assistance to fully understand” the criminal proceedings.

Pavelich was booked into the Cook County jail on Aug. 15 after friend James T. Miller, 63, told authorities he was struck with a 3- to 4-foot-long metal pole by Pavelich after returning from a day of fishing to the hockey star’s home down a dirt road near Deer Yard Lake. Pavelich had accused Miller of “spiking his beer,” the criminal complaint read.

Miller, who’s been Pavelich’s neighbour for 20 years, suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fracture to one of his vertebrae, the charges detailed. The beating also left bruises on his arms and legs and a large mark across his back.

Pavelich was charged with second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and possessing a gun with a missing serial number.

Wearing a black and white striped jail suit, his hands cuffed, Pavelich sat quietly during the hearing in the courtroom with windows overlooking Lake Superior.

Prosecutors asked to raise his bail from $250,000 to $5 million, citing a “significant risk to public safety,” based on the psychologist’s report.

Defense attorney Christopher Stocke disagreed and added that Pavelich would not have the means to bail himself out at the lower bail level.

Cuzzo set the bail at $500,000 and required the county proceed promptly with civil commitment proceedings so that Pavelich could get help.

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, said the family is convinced that “all the concussions and the blows he had” in the National Hockey League left Pavelich suffering from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to erratic behaviour 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, who lives in the Twin Cities and spends summers near Pavelich’s home on property her brother gave her. “This is a totally different guy.”

Gevik and other family members said they started seeing changes in her brother about five years ago.

Gevik said that Herb Brooks, Team USA’s coach at the 1980 Games and later in the NHL with the New York Rangers, once recalled that Pavelich had one especially severe head injury that could have ended his life.

“All the research is out there about CTE,” she said. “This should not be a surprise here.”

Pavelich, a centre who starred for Eveleth High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal against the Soviets in the semifinal game. Team USA’s story was turned into the hit movie “Miracle” in 2004.

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Pavelich played five seasons with the Rangers. He joined the Minnesota North Stars in 1986-87, but only for 12 games. After a brief pro stint in Italy, he was out of the game before a career-ending two-game stint with the San Jose Sharks in 1991-92.

Away from the game, Pavelich has been a virtual recluse. In 2012, his 44-year-old wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from a second-story balcony at their home. Two years later, he sold his gold medal for $262,900 in an auction, explaining he wanted to provide financial security for his adult daughter.

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