Mark Pavelich: ‘Miracle on Ice’ hockey star’s death ruled suicide as family blame CTE

A medical examiner’s autopsy report has concluded that the hockey star Mark Pavelich died of suicide last month while at a treatment centre in Minnesota.

The 63-year old Olympic hero and star of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” match was found dead on 4 March from asphyxiation at the Sauk Centre in Minnesota where he was receiving treatment. A judge had in 2019 sent him to the Eagle’s Healing Nest at Sauk Centre having deemed him a “danger to the public” but incompetent to stand trial.

In August 2019, Pavelich had assaulted a neighbour in his hometown Lutsen in Minnesota. His family, however, maintains that he was battling chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from blows to his head during his professional hockey career. They maintain that CTE led him to attack the person.

Pavelich had been receiving mental health treatment at the Sauk Centre since October. The judge had ruled that Pavelich was battling delusions and paranoia.

The 63-year old neighbour had said that Pavelich attacked him with a metal pole and in the scuffle that broke out, he broke two ribs, suffered a fractured vertebra and a bruised kidney. Pavelich, according to the criminal complaint that was filed against him, had accused the victim of spiking his beer.

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Pavelich was charged with second and third-degree assault in the state district court. He was also found to be in possession of a firearm with a missing or altered serial number.

Pavelich rose to fame after his famous pass that led to the United States’ winning goal in what came to be known as the “Miracle on Ice” upset of the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. In an obituary in the Star Tribune, Pavelich was described as a “down-to-earth, no-frills guy who loved playing practical jokes almost as much as he loved fishing.”

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, has maintained that it was his CTE that led to him having difficulties in life. CTE, which can only be diagnosed after a person’s death, has been found in many former athletes who happened to also battle mental health issues later in their life.

In a Facebook post talking about CTE and her brother’s brain, Ms Gevik said: “ I have no doubt it will be riddled with disease.”

In 2018, the National Hockey League (NHL) had reached a settlement with several hundred former athletes who had accused the league of hiding the dangers of repeated blows to the head.

In 2014, Pavelich sold his gold medal for more than $250,000, two years after his wife Kara’s death.

The Midwest medical examiner’s office said that Pavelich died around 8.30am in the morning on 4 March and the manner of his death was announced as suicide.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. For UK services local to you, the national mental health database – Hub of Hope – allows you to enter your postcode to search for organisations and charities who offer mental health advice and support in your area.

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