Mark Pavelich, the “Miracle on Ice” hockey star under court-ordered commitment for seriously assaulting a North Shore neighbor last year, is no longer refusing treatment for mental illness and is making progress toward a newly rescheduled court hearing where his fitness to stand trial will be reviewed.
In a court filing that argued for a minimum 60-day delay of a competency hearing originally scheduled for next Monday, attorneys for the 1980 Olympic gold medalist gave an encouraging update on his recent turnaround during his confinement at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
Cook County District Judge Michael Cuzzo agreed with the 62-year-old’s attorneys over prosecution objections and reset the hearing for June 26.
That’s now when the court will weigh whether Pavelich is well enough to participate in his defense on charges of second- and third-degree assault and related weapons counts.
In December, a “mentally ill and dangerous” Pavelich was ordered confined to St. Peter for treatment and ruled incompetent to stand trial on allegations from a longtime friend and neighbor, Jim Miller, that Pavelich struck him with a long metal pole after they returned from a day of fishing to the hockey star’s Lutsen area home. Pavelich had accused Miller, 64, of “spiking his beer,” the criminal complaint read.
In winning the hearing delay, Pavelich’s attorneys pointed out that St. Peter staff in March no longer needed to give him medication over his objections, and he was starting to meet with new legal representation and agreeing to therapy as well. The additional time, they said, would allow the treatment to have its full effect on Pavelich’s mental health.
Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, was equally upbeat about his progress, saying Wednesday that “whatever they’re doing at St. Peter is working. Mark is complying with the doctors’ orders for treatment, and he’s doing extremely well.”
Gevik, who lives in the Twin Cities, said she can no longer visit her brother at the state-run hospital because of the coronavirus outbreak but talks with him nearly every day, and “he’s been in touch with many family members and a lot of old friends. Everybody is saying the same thing.”
The three-page filing by Pavelich’s attorneys also argued for more time to sort out a discrepancy between two doctors’ diagnoses about whether hockey-related head injuries are behind his mental difficulties.
Dr. Chris Bowerman, who recommended civil commitment, has told the court that he believes Pavelich suffers from an “unspecified neurocognitive” affliction, the court filing noted.
Dr. Jacqueline Buffington, who examined Pavelich on behalf of his counsel, pointed to a “mild neurocognitive disorder” and went further, saying it was “due to a traumatic brain injury,” the filing read.
Pavelich’s sister raised concerns immediately after the assault allegations that he suffers from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, from repeated concussions and blows to the head while playing in the NHL. She said she started seeing changes in him a few years ago and had tried to get help for him, but he refused.
On Wednesday, Gevik said her brother’s recent improvement allows her to hold out for his full recovery.
“I know that it’s early in the process,” she said, “but the progress he’s made leaves me extremely hopeful.”
Pavelich assisted on Mike 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.” Team USA went on to defeat Finland to win the gold.
In the NHL, Pavelich played with the New York Rangers for five seasons and briefly joined the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. Out of the game since 1992, he has lived quietly in Cook County and earned a living in real estate.
As a footnote in his ruling favorable to the hometown hockey hero from Eveleth High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, the judge emphasized that Pavelich’s fame “is not a factor” in his handling of the case.