A Minnesota district judge ruled Wednesday that former “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey player Mark Pavelich is mentally ill and dangerous and ordered him committed to a secure treatment facility.
Pavelich, 61, of Lutsen, Minn., will get another hearing in February to determine whether he should remain committed for an indeterminate period of time.
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 clinical psychologists who examined the former hockey star found Pavelich to have post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other conditions, according to Cuzzo’s order. Both found that he lacked insight into his mental illness and opposed treatment. Both considered him to be mentally ill and dangerous.
According to the order, psychologist Chris Bowerman found Pavelich to have delusions and paranoia, including a delusion that family, friends and neighbors tried to poison him. Bowerman noted that Pavelich’s responses escalated from damaging property to inflicting harm on another person.
Psychologist Jacqueline Buffington found Pavelich suffers from “mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury with behavioral disturbance (psychotic symptoms, aggression),” and opined that his condition is likely related to head injuries suffered over his lifetime.
Buffington also found that Pavelich sometimes “responded irrelevantly” to questions and struggled to express himself. She said it reflects a “mild anomic aphasia,” or communication difficulty that “usually results from damage to the brain,” according to the order.
Suffered hockey injuries
The findings revealed in the court documents reflect what some of Pavelich’s family members have said in the past. They are convinced that Pavelich suffers from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, after repeated concussions and blows while playing in the NHL. They said they started seeing changes in him a few years ago and had tried to get help for him, but that he had refused.
His sister, Jean Gevik, has called his case “heartbreaking.”
“He’s been an amazing brother. Fun. Loving,” she has said. “This has been a total change.”
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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 last year 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 sister has said.
Pavelich assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal in a stunning upset of the heavily favored Soviet Union in their medal-round game of the 1980 Olympic hockey 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.
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.