GRAND MARAIS, MINN. – A district judge is considering whether a former “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey player should be civilly committed to a mental health facility and for how long, following a stalled criminal case in which he was found incompetent to stand trial.
Attorneys argued during a closed hearing Monday whether Mark Pavelich, 61, should be found “mentally ill” or “mentally ill and dangerous” based on reports from two clinical psychologists who examined the former hockey star and his history, attorneys in the case said.
Judge Michael Cuzzo indicated that he would issue a public written decision, though he warned that medical information will be redacted from it.
Pavelich, of Lutsen, Minn., was found incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges last month after he was charged in August with beating a friend, James T. Miller, with a metal pole after a day of fishing. Pavelich had accused Miller of “spiking his beer,” according to a criminal complaint, and Miller suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a vertebrae fracture, as well as bruises.
Pavelich was charged with second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and possessing a gun with a missing serial number.
Prosecutors last month called Pavelich a “significant risk to public safety” and Cuzzo concluded that Pavelich was “incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency,” and put the criminal case on hold.
Cook County Social Services then petitioned the court to commit Pavelich to the state as “mentally ill and dangerous,” leading to Monday’s hearing which Cuzzo closed at the request of attorneys because sensitive medical information would be presented in testimony.
County Attorney Molly Hicken said after the hearing that the judge heard testimony from two psychologists who examined Pavelich. The hockey star’s entire history — including medical records, his behavior in jail and interviews with family — can be considered, she said.
If Pavelich were committed as mentally ill, he would undergo treatment for a year — with a possible six-month extension — then the state would have to prove that any further commitment is needed with the filing of a new petition, Hicken said.
If Pavelich were committed as mentally ill and dangerous, a report would be required within 60 days and a judge would then review the case for continued indefinite commitment, she said.
Members of Pavelich’s family, who were forced to exit the courtroom, have said 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.
Relatives met with him after Monday’s hearing and said they shared fun stories and Pavelich had a nice smile.
“I want him to get help,” said his sister Jean Gevik. Then, she added, she hopes he can become involved in a therapeutic facility that some former hockey players are hoping to open. “We’re obviously anxious to get the news.”
Gevik has called Pavelich “an amazing brother. Fun. Loving … this has been a total change.”
The NHL has faced criticism for how it handled head injuries despite a long list of rules, studies and league-player committees focused on enhancing player safety. The league admitted no fault or wrongdoing while reaching a legal settlement last year with hundreds of retired players who claimed harm from head injuries.
Pavelich assisted on Make 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,” before 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 North Stars and San Jose Sharks. Out of the game since 1992, he has been a virtual recluse 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.
Gevik said she is close to her brother and has offered to have him stay with her if he’s not committed.
The judge indicated he would likely rule by early next week, attorneys said.
“After he gets some help, I think he’ll come around,” Gevik said, adding that he’ll need to follow doctor’s orders. “If he’s with me, I’ll make sure they’re followed. I’m OK with taking on that responsibility.”
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102