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'Miracle on Ice' Star Mark Pavelich 'Mentally Ill,' 'Dangerous,' Judge Rules

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 5, 2019

In this Dec. 4, 2014, file photo, hockey players skate at the Herb Brooks Arena, the site of the
Mike Groll/Associated Press

Mark Pavelich, who starred on the 1980 Olympic gold medal-winning United States men's hockey team, has been ruled "mentally ill" and "dangerous" by a Minnesota district judge.

Per Pam Louwagie of the Star Tribune, the judge has ordered the 61-year-old to be committed to a secure treatment facility.

Louwagie explained the circumstances leading to the decision, including criminal charges against Pavelich in August.

"Pavelich faced criminal charges that he beat a friend with a metal pole in August after a day of fishing. Charging documents alleged that he had accused the friend of 'spiking his beer' and that his friend suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebra, as well as bruises.

"Judge Michael Cuzzo found Pavelich incompetent to stand trial, however, concluding based on an expert report that Pavelich was 'incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency.' The criminal case was put on hold while the state moved to civilly commit him to treatment."

Two psychologists examined Pavelich. Chris Bowerman wrote that Pavelich had delusions and paranoia, and Jacqueline Buffington said that the ex-hockey star has "mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury with behavioral disturbance (psychotic symptoms, aggression)."

Pavelich had one goal and six assists in seven contests for the "Miracle on Ice" gold-medal winners. He had two assists in the team's legendary 4-3 upset victory over the Soviet Union in a medal-round game.

Pavelich played in 341 regular-season NHL games over seven seasons, including five with the New York Rangers from 1981 to 1986. He posted 133 goals and 185 assists.

Per Louwagie, Pavelich's family believes that Pavelich suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) because of repeated concussions during his NHL days. Court documents also reveal that the family started noticing changes a few years ago and sought to get help for Pavelich, who refused assistance.

"He's been an amazing brother. Fun. Loving," Pavelich's sister Jean Gevik said. "This has been a total change."

The Associated Press (h/t Charlotte Observer) discussed the link between CTE, concussions and the NHL in its piece covering the judge's decision to have Pavelich committed.

"CTE, which can be diagnosed only after death, has been found in several former NHL players, more than 100 former NFL players and in dozens more athletes and members of the military who have been exposed to repetitive head trauma. The disease can lead to memory loss, depression and even suicide. The NHL has long denied there is a conclusive link between repeated blows to the head and CTE. ...

"The NHL has been criticized for the way it has handled head injuries. Last year, the league settled a court case with hundreds of retired players who claimed they were harmed by head injuries. The NHL admitted no wrongdoing. Pavelich did not make a claim, Gevik has said."

Pavelich is from Lutsen, Minnesota. Per Louwagie, a hearing will occur in February to determine whether he will continue to be committed for an undetermined period of time.