fb-pixel Skip to main content

From Miracle on Ice hero to rock-bottom: Mark Pavelich’s downfall truly heartbreaking

Mark Pavelich was a member of the 1980 US hockey team that won an Olympic gold medal.AP File Photo/Associated Press

During his days on Broadway, zipping around in what was coach Herb Brooks’s novel, circle-back Ranger game plan, Mark Pavelich didn’t say much. One of the stars of the 1980 US Olympic team, “Pav” also was among the quietest Team USA players, then had little urge or inclination to talk upon coming to the big city to launch his NHL career.

The running joke, rooted in both truth and humor, was that he wouldn’t appear for postgame interviews on the Rangers’ TV broadcasts unless the payout included fishing gear that he could lug back home to Minnesota come springtime.

Pavelich, 61, on Wednesday was left with little to say, or perhaps was incapable of expressing anything, when Minnesota judge Michael Cuzzo deemed him mentally ill and dangerous, and ultimately incapable of standing trial for a felony assault charge.


In August, Pavelich allegedly beat a friend with a metal pole, inflicting a number of injuries, including cracked ribs, a bruised kidney, and a fractured vertebra. According to press accounts, Pavelich suspected his pal spiked his beer after a day of fishing around his home in the Lutsen, Minn., area, some 100 miles up the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth, where Pavelich played his college hockey prior to joining in the summer of ’79 what would become the beatified USA squad.

Per Cuzzo’s ruling, Pavelich was assigned to a secure treatment facility, after two psychologists told the court that he suffered from a variety of ailments, including delusions, paranoia, and a neurocognitive disorder, the latter likely the consequence, said Dr. Jacqueline Buffington, of a traumatic brain injury. In the weeks leading up to this past week’s court date, per the psychologists, he both lacked insight into his mental illness and refused treatment.

Pavelich’s psychological status will be reevaluated in February. If improved, the trial will proceed. Family members since August have gone on record saying they believe his deteriorating mental state is related to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which they contend stems from head injuries suffered while playing hockey. To date, only an autopsy can confirm the presence of CTE.


Hard to imagine a steeper, sadder tumble into darkness. At least until now, Pavelich was destined to be remembered as a major player in that magical, upstart USA squad that beat the mighty Russians and went on to capture the gold at Lake Placid.

It was a fairy tale. All of it. One that seems even larger now nearly 40 years later. The place. The people. Goalie Jim Craig, with the American flag draped over his shoulders, looking for his dad in the stands. The forever-energized and animated captain, Winthrop’s Mike Eruzione, eagerly calling all of his red-white-and-blue band of brothers to the medal stand.

Pavelich, a sprite of a forward at only 5 feet 8 inches, assisted on Eruzione’s winning goal that sent the dumbstruck CCCP team home on a stretcher to Red Square.

The Miracle on Ice, conjured up in a quaint Adirondack village, remains among America’s most dramatic and cherished Olympic moments. US speedskater Eric Heiden won five gold medals at the same Games, but not even that ostentatious haul could muscle the ragtag Yanks out from under the enduring spotlight.

Eruzione, Craig, and crew are expected to gather again for their 40-year reunion in February when the Vegas Golden Knights host a two-day (21st-22nd) fete to celebrate their triumph. By that time, Pavelich will be on trial or still institutionalized in the Minnesota treatment facility. Or both.


For the most part, Pavelich experienced only modest NHL success, much of that perception based on the fact that the Rangers had short playoff runs in his time with them. He did pile up 329 points in 355 games — 233 of those in his first three seasons, by age 26. In today’s game, those numbers easily would have landed him a second contract of, say, $5 million a year or more.

In February 2015, purporting he wanted to help contribute to his daughter’s finances, Pavelich put his ’80 gold medal up for bids with Heritage Auctions. It sold for a reported $262,500. “You can’t put them in a house because it could burn or get stolen,” Eruzione noted to Yahoo! Sports at the time, noting the general impracticality of medals. “Then it’s just gone and useless.”

In September 2012, Kara Pavelich, his 44-year-old wife, fell to her death off a balcony at their home in Lutsen. Per reports, Kara, a well-known artist in the area, fell some 20 feet while likely attempting to find better reception for her cellphone.

Pavelich had not been back in Adirondack, shunning a number of requests through the decades, until a persistent teammate, Buzz Schneider, cajoled him into joining his teammates for a reunion in 2015, about the time he auctioned his medal.

“On stage with his teammates,” Wayne Coffey, then the fine scribe with the New York Daily News, wrote from Lake Placid, “Pavelich looked as if he wished he were under a snowbank.”


No telling what Pavelich wishes for these days, or if he has the capacity to wish, or laugh, or cry, or to survive. He is one of the Boys of Winter (Coffey’s book), forever connected with a moment in time, his life and memories gone somewhere now he may not even know.


Following in dad’s footsteps not easy

Canadiens goalie and Northeastern alumn Cayden Primeau made his NHL debut Thursday night.Graham Hughes/AP/The Canadian Press via AP

Ex-Northeastern goalie Cayden Primeau, lead dog in the Huskies’ net (44-18-6) the past two seasons, made his NHL debut for the Canadiens Thursday night, a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche at the Bell Centre.

Primeau, jittery at the start, gave up a pair in the first period, but settled down and at least gave the Habs a chance — something even prized No. 1 stopper Carey Price has found to be elusive at times this season.

The 6-3 Cayden, 20, is son of ex-NHL center Keith Primeau, who was in the Bell Centre stands to witness junior’s debut.

Ryan Ruck, who moved to backup duty the past two seasons at Northeastern while Primeau took charge, is playing as a graduate student this season at Colorado College. Headed into weekend play, he was 1-3-0 in five games. Now 25, Ruck shares the Tigers’ net with freshman Matt Vernon, son of Mike Vernon, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy with Detroit in 1997. Dad also won a Cup with the Flames in 1989. Matt, 21, went 40-9-3 last season at NAHL Aberdeen.


Sons following fathers into goalie careers, particularly all the way to the NHL level, is a rarity. Good work, if you can find it, but the skill demand and pressures of the position often are too much even for those who might have a genetic edge in the battle.

Just last weekend, goalie Jeremy Brodeur, 23, abruptly packed up at SPHL Peoria for a chance at full-time work in Hungary (KHM Budapest). The son of Hall of Fame tender Martin Brodeur, Jeremy played the prior three seasons in the ECHL and dropped a rung to Peoria this season.

“My career in North America went as far as I felt it could go,” Brodeur explained to the Peoria Journal Star before shuffling off to Budapest. He’s hoping to use the remainder of 2019-20 to find a foothold in a Euro career.

Jeff Hextall, son of former Flyers goaltender (and later GM) Ron Hextall, showed promise on the goalie track as a kid, but didn’t play beyond his year with the South Shore Kings at age 20. Ron’s father and grandfather (both named Bryan) had NHL careers as forwards.

Dayn Belfour, whose father Ed had a long NHL run (963 games) and won a Stanley Cup in Dallas (1999), played net in college, but wrapped up after his final season (2013-14) with the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Dad starred for one year at North Dakota before turning pro.

Patrick Roy’s boy, Jeremy, opted instead for defense and played the blue line for four years in the Quebec League. The No. 31 pick in the 2015 draft by the Sharks, he’s playing in San Jose for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

Sam and Pete LoPresti were the first father-son goalie combo to make it to the NHL. Sam played 74 games with Chicago during the World War II years and son Pete suited up for 175 games, most with the then-Minnesota North Stars.

The moody Pat Riggin played across two seasons with the Bruins in the mid-’80s. His dad, Dennis, played 18 games in the Red Wings’ net at the start of the ’60s.

Bob Sauve, once a regular in the Sabres’ net, was followed briefly in the NHL by son Philippe, who appeared in his final two big league games as a goaltender with the 2006-07 Bruins.

The Bruins forever will be grateful for one of the game’s better father-son tandems — though not for their puck-stopping.

Ron Grahame, who signed as a free agent out of the WHA in October ’77, went an impressive 26-6-7 with the 1977-78 Bruins. His son John, a 2-year-old that season, was drafted by the Bruins 17 years later and made his NHL debut with the Bruins in the 1999-2000 season. He went on to log 224 NHL games, most of them with Tampa and Carolina.

As for gratitude, the Bruins in October ’78 surprisingly dealt the senior Grahame to the LA Kings for a first-round draft pick. The Kings flopped, with Grahame relegated to back up Mario Lessard, leaving the Bruins in possession of the No. 8 pick for the June ’79 draft.

Less than nine months after acquiring the LA pick, the Bruins used it to select Ray Bourque, the Hall-of-Fame defenseman, whose career 1,579 points remain the gold standard for NHL blue liners.


Hynes is the latest coach given the ax

John Hynes was fired as head coach of the Devils this past week.Mary Altaffer/AP/Associated Press

John Hynes, the former Boston University winger (1994-97), became the NHL’s third coaching casualty this season this past week, following the Devils’ 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the barely-ready-for-prime-time Sabres.

After a slew of encouraging moves over the summer, including the acquisition of defenseman P.K. Subban from Nashville and the drafting of slick teenybopper pivot Jack Hughes, Hynes and crew opened the season with a resounding 0-4-2 thud. Instead of the anticipated leap to relevance, it was a big, sticky step in the bucket.

“That set a lot of things back,” noted GM Ray Shero, who installed Alain Nasreddine, Hynes’s longtime assistant, as interim coach.

Shero was left dumbstruck following the loss to Buffalo. “I’m not even going to try to describe it,” he told reporters the day of the shakeup.

The Montreal-born-and-raised Nasreddine, previously in charge of the blue liners, was drafted as a defenseman in 1993 (Florida, No. 135) and, like a large number of NHL bench bosses, saw very little action in the big league (74 games/four teams/1-4—5).

His first challenge will be to tighten up on D. Headed into weekend play, the former Trappist Wonks had a goal differential of minus-32 (smelling salts, STAT, for Jacques Lemaire!). Only the Red Wings (minus-56) were swimming south of that septic sludge.

Adding to the struggle to tighten up has been a very porous Devils net. His game a mess after six starts (0-4-0), ex-Boston College goalie Cory Schneider recently was demoted to AHL Binghamton, none of the other 30 teams willing to clip the former No. 1 off waivers (especially with more than $15 million due his way over the next 2½ years). Schneider, 33, fell to 6-13-4 last season. He’s fighting it. What appeared a bug is now a feature.

If Nasreddine can get at least adequate backstopping out of MacKenzie Blackwood or Louis Domingue, there is enough runway left on the schedule maybe to inch back into a race for a wild-card berth. Even the 13-11-5 Sabres, winners of only three of their previous 10, were holding down a postseason spot as of Friday morning. The No. 2 wild card, Pittsburgh, had but a 12-point edge on New Jersey.

Shero, should he go looking for a different bench boss, could consider Jay Leach for the post. Coach of Boston’s WannaBs in AHL Providence, Leach, 40, is articulate, open, and has a firm grasp and talent in dealing with the media — particularly on display when he oversees rookie camp each September.

Another candidate could be Bruins assistant Jay Pandolfo, who played all but 80 of his 899 career games with the Devils and has his name on two of their three Cup titles (2000 and ’03).

Loose pucks

Chairman Jeremy Jacobs and his fellow suits on the Board of Governors meet Monday and Tuesday in the hockey hotbed of Pebble Beach, Calif., It’s a grind, folks. Top of the agenda will be the recent ugly underbelly exposed in the resignation (ahem) of Calgary coach Bill Peters, who packed up a week ago Friday after confirmation of racist remarks he directed at onetime NHL hopeful Akim Aliu when they were both at AHL Rockford. Aliu met this past week with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly and provided them with his take on the landscape of abusive coaching practices and how they impact minority players. Look for Bettman to direct owners to create a mission statement, or detailed code of conduct, around their coaching personnel and infrastructure. In the wake of Peters’s departure and other reports of abuse, a number of player agents have been outspoken about abusive attacks on players, particularly verbal in nature, they say have gone on for too long. “Like any business, let’s say the insurance or the restaurant industry,” noted local agent Matt Keator, “the NHL has to establish a standard here. Some of these guys have clearly stepped over the line for a long time.” . . . Ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas formally will be inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame Thursday night in D.C. All but a recluse since playing his last NHL games for Dallas in 2013-14, Thomas turned 45 in April. During a conference call in September, when inductees were named, Thomas spoke sparingly in detail of his life post-hockey and noted, “With the state of my nervous system since I retired, I wouldn’t be able to hardly handle the energy of the crowd in Boston.” He added his enduring appreciation for Boston fans who, “loved the crap out of me when I was there, to the point where it was hard to handle.” . . . Your faithful puck chronicler’s ranking of the top five free agents signed by the Bruins: 1. Thomas; 2. Zdeno Chara; 3. Torey Krug; 4. Marc Savard; and 5. Jaroslav Halak. And, yes, plenty of room to disagree. My bet: Krug remains put here after this season, on an eight-year deal that averages slightly north of $7.5 million. Halak, 34, possibly gets someone to pay him maybe $4.5 million across three or four years. The Bruins likely won’t want to hand him more than $3 million on a two- or three-year deal. Otherwise, they’ll move on to Max Lagace. Just biz . . . Ex-Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban looks like he might have had a career breakthrough, forced into the No. 1 spot for Vegas with Marc-Andre Fleury away for his father’s final days and subsequent funeral. Prior to the weekend, Subban, 25, went 4-1-1 over six consecutive starts, pocketing consecutive wins over Nashville, Arizona, the Rangers, and Devils. The best of the bunch might have been the win over New Jersey, with brother P.K. left on the short side of the scoresheet. “Always fun to beat him,” said Malcolm, who left Boston via preseason waivers in October 2017, “especially knowing who he is.” . . . The Bruins, with four games in the next six days, are in Tampa Thursday night. The Lightning are too talented to be scuffling along with but 13 wins in 30 games prior to weekend play. They should be able to play out of it, which is what everyone was saying as they dropped four straight in Round 1 last April to the Blue Jackets. GM Julien BriseBois may have no choice but to rattle the cage with an impact deal, but such moves are nearly impossible in a cap era that has most impact personnel locked in on no-trade or no-move deals. The other move could be coaching. It’s Jon Cooper’s eighth year behind the bench. He’s sharp, successful, and very much new-age in approach. But right now, his team is flashing “failure to launch” and that’s trouble.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.