Mark Pavelich led a roller coaster life right out of Dickens — “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’’ In the end, the worst of times prevailed.
Pavelich died last week, just days after his 63rd birthday. He died alone in a rehabilitation center in Sauk Creek, Minn., where he was receiving treatment for mental health issues.
It was a sad ending for a man who was once part of one of the greatest sports stories of the 20th century, the “Miracle On Ice” when a team of hockey spare parts beat the Soviet Union and went on to win the 1980 Olympic hockey gold medal.
Pavelich had two assists in the game against the Soviets including one on the game-winning goal by Mike Eruzione.
In a way, he was perfect for that American team, an undersized player who seemed dwarfed on the ice by bigger, tougher players. That was the kind of team coach Herb Brooks and general Manager Craig Patrick assembled – quick, smart skaters who beat opponents to the puck.
That was Pav’s game at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he starred for three seasons before being selected for the United States national team. He fit in nicely on a line with Buzz Schneider and John Harrington and they clicked immediately. Pavelich was the centerpiece, blessed with had a gift of puck sense and anticipation.
After the Olympics ended with the Americans standing at the top of the medals podium, accepting their gold medals, many of the players moved to the National Hockey League. Pavelich chose a different destination, heading for a season in Switzerland before being recruited by Brooks, who by then was coach of the New York Rangers.
In his first season in New York, Pav scored 33 goals and 76 points, still a team record for a rookie. There were 37 goals the next year, including a magical night when he scored five in one game. No other American-born player has ever done that.
But there was trouble ahead. The Rangers brought in Ted Sator to replace Brooks and his dump-and-chase style clashed with Pavelich’s game. Pav walked away and after a brief reunion with Brooks in Minnesota, he played two seasons in Scotland and Italy. Hockey was ending for Mark Pavelich.
A private man, Pav avoided the hoopla that surrounded the Miracle on Ice team. He skipped a ceremony at the White House with President Jimmy Carter. He passed on a Sports Illustrated gala at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the team’s accomplishment and passed when the team lit the Olympic torch for the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City.
There were two marriages, the first ending in divorce, the second in death when his wife fell from a second story balcony that they were constructing at their home in a rural region of Minnesota.
He became suspicious of those around him and when he went fishing with a neighbor, he accused the man of spiking his beer and beat him with a pole. The injuries he inflicted were enough to get Pavelich arrested. He was found unable to stand trial and was sent to a psychiatric institution. Later he was moved to a rehabilitation facility and it was there that he died.
The worst of times had finally caught up with Mark Pavelich.