The family of Mark Pavelich will soon know for certain whether the "Miracle on Ice" hockey star suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy — commonly known as CTE — caused by repeated blows to the head while playing the game he loved.
Days after Pavelich, 63, was found dead in a Sauk Centre residential treatment center, his sister, Jean Gevik, wrote in an emotional Facebook post Saturday that her brother's brain was being analyzed for the degenerative brain disease, which can only be confirmed by an autopsy.
"Going with statistics, I have no doubt it will be riddled with disease," she said. "Mark loved the NHL and the Olympics and didn't blame them for his problems. He was unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to play in the big league ... especially in lieu of his size."
Pavelich, an Iron Range sports legend and standout at Eveleth High School,played a significant role in Team USA's "Miracle on Ice" defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics before the U.S. went on to win gold. That led to seven seasons with the NHL, but he spent his final years in legal and mental turmoil.
When he died, he was under civil commitment for the violent 2019 assault of a North Shore neighbor. A judge initially deemed him "mentally ill and dangerous" and committed him to a state facility, but this past summer Pavelich was granted court approval to be transferred to the less restrictive, nonprofit Eagle's Healing Nest for treatment.
The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office in Anoka County has yet to determine a cause and manner of death, a spokesperson said Saturday. Gevik did not return a message for comment.
In her post, Gevik said that her family was going through "an unbearable time."
"The news is absolutely devastating," she said. "The last flicker of Mark's candle went out. Way too much trauma and way too much hurt. A life cut short."
The symptoms of CTE include confusion, impaired judgment, aggression and depression. Gevik and other family and friends have said they believe Pavelich suffered from the disease that has afflicted other NHL and NFL athletes.
They said the quiet, kind introvert they knew became increasingly confused, paranoid and angry after his wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from their Lutsen balcony in 2012.
"Mark actually died years ago when he lost his beloved Kara. Now they're together again. Soul mates forever," Gevik wrote, lashing out in her post at what she called rumors of his involvement in her death. "Kara and Mark loved each other. Those of us who spent time with them knew. The summer before she died, they were out on the lake often ... he fished while she painted. It was beautiful to see them together."
Gevik said she had "frustration and anger" about how society treats people with mental illness after seeing what her brother went through. "Why would you persecute a mentally ill man and push him to the point of hopelessness?" she asked.
Still, she said she was grateful that he spent his last months in a less-restrictive place than the high-security mental health hospital in St. Peter where he was first committed.
"He had the chance to play his guitar around a campfire with new friends, fish the local lake, and bask in the loving care of The Eagle's Healing Nest," she wrote.
Erica Pearson • 612-673-4726