"Miracle on Ice" hockey star Mark Pavelich was granted court approval Wednesday for transfer from the state's high-security mental health hospital to a less restrictive setting for treatment while facing charges that he assaulted and seriously injured a neighbor last year at his North Shore home.
Pavelich, a 1980 Olympic gold medalist and hockey standout in college and high school in Minnesota, appeared via videoconferencing from St. Peter Security Hospital before Cook County Judge Michael Cuzzo to answer questions from his attorney and from the bench.
Late in the 20-minute proceeding, the 62-year-old Pavelich was asked by his attorney, Stephen Foertsch, whether he agrees that he is mentally ill as defined by state law.
"Yes, I do," said Pavelich.
Cuzzo's ruling that Pavelich is mentally ill clears the way for the judge to suspend for six months an earlier determination that Pavelich was "mentally ill and dangerous."
This allows Pavelich to be moved, possibly within weeks, from St. Peter to a less restrictive treatment facility.
Foertsch said after the judge's ruling that, along with the transfer, another "primary motivation from the beginning of this case is to remove that 'dangerous' label."
Among Pavelich's relocation possibilities is Eagle's Healing Nest, a sprawling nonprofit treatment facility in Sauk Centre that offers greater interaction with other clients, and amenities such as horseback riding and barbecues.
"Mr. Pavelich has met this recent challenge with the expected diligence of the gold medal Olympian that he is," his attorneys, Foertsch and co-counsel Carolyn Bruno, said in a joint statement afterward. "We are very pleased that Mr. Pavelich will be given this chance to be transferred to a less restrictive facility where his specific needs can be met."
An earlier court filing said two medical doctors evaluated Pavelich on June 19 and found he "demonstrated many treatment gains [and] could be adequately treated in a setting that is less restrictive than his current placement." Earlier, he had been refusing treatment, according to court records.
The doctors found that Pavelich has "a potential psychotic disorder due to traumatic brain injuries, with delusions, and an unspecified trauma and stressor-related disorder," according to the filing.
Pavelich's friends and family have raised concerns that he exhibits signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from repeated blows to the head while playing in the National Hockey League. They said the quiet, solitary man they knew had in recent years became increasingly paranoid and at times almost threatening — possible symptoms of the degenerative disease.
The St. Peter hospital holding Pavelich is the only facility of its kind in Minnesota, a prisonlike place where officials can assess and treat individuals with severe mental health disorders who are considered a threat to the public. The state's website describes it as "an inherently difficult place to live and work."
Still pending against the Eveleth High School and University of Minnesota Duluth hockey star are second- and third-degree assault charges in the alleged striking of his neighbor after a fishing trip last August near Pavelich's Lutsen home.
James T. Miller suffered two cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebra. Pavelich accused his friend of "spiking his beer," according to the criminal complaint.
Pavelich was charged with additional felonies for possessing a short-barreled shotgun and firearms without serial numbers. His defense attorney has moved to dismiss those charges, saying the firearms were found during an illegal search.
Pavelich and his fellow amateur skaters stunned Olympics watchers in 1980 with their "Miracle" victory over the game's then-Goliath, the Soviet Union. That semifinal triumph in the Olympics propelled Pavelich and his teammates onto the gold medal stand in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Pavelich then moved into the NHL, playing five seasons with the Rangers; with the Minnesota North Stars in 1986-87, and with the San Jose Sharks in 1991-92.