The troubled times of Mark Pavelich had brought great sadness to members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. That was also the case with players who competed against him in the mid-1970s when hockey was ridiculously good in the Iron Range Conference, and competed with him for Minnesota Duluth later in the 1970s when competition was ridiculously strong in the WCHA.
John "Bah" Harrington was in all three of those groups, and on Friday the sadness increased substantially with the news that Pavelich, 63, had been found dead at Eagle's Nest Healing Center in Sauk Centre, Minn.
He was there receiving mental health treatment. This private man's problems had become very public in recent months, which only increased the need for Harrington, and other teammates and rivals, to remember the "real Pav."
Harrington is now the women's hockey coach at Minnesota State Mankato. He was a high school standout for Virginia when Pavelich was 6 miles to the south with Eveleth. He was on a wing for Pavelich at Minnesota Duluth. He was part of the "Conehead Line" for the Lake Placid gold medal with Pavelich and fellow Iron Ranger Buzz Schneider from Babbitt.
"I was a year ahead of Pav and Eveleth was the archrival, of course," Harrington said. "We were loaded in my senior year in 1975, and lost to Grand Rapids in the semifinals."
Was that the game when Grand Rapids coach Gus Hendrickson talked the refs into taking a late-period goal off the scoreboard between the first and second periods, and your Virginia teammate, Keith Hendrickson, went next door, pounding on the Rapids locker room door, threatening to pummel his Uncle Gus?
"Exactly," Harrington said. "And the next year, when Pav was a senior, that Eveleth team lost its first two games of the season, and its last to Grand Rapids, and won 25 in a row in between. That was Range hockey in the 1970s. Brutal. And great."
The conniving Gus Hendrickson went to Minnesota Duluth, taking assistant Mike Sertich with him, after Grand Rapids won the state title in 1975. Harrington let recent grudges go and went to play for Gus, Sertie and the Bulldogs.
A year later, Pavelich did the same.
"We had some players at Duluth," Harrington said. "The top half-dozen teams in the WCHA were outstanding in 1978-79. We lost the total-goal series to the Gophers in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament. And Gophers beat North Dakota in the national title game."
Pavelich was centering a line with Harrington and Scott Carlston, a freshman from Bloomington. "Scott was happy to carry our equipment, as freshmen had to do, to play on that line," Harrington said.
Hendrickson had put Harrington and Pavelich together as juniors, not long after the two had a fight in practice.
"We were both playing center then," Harrington said. "I wasn't going to let him go around me, and Pav wasn't going to let me go around him, and it turned into a fight.
"All our teammates thought it was hilarious because we were far from fighters. Gus must have liked it, though, because a couple of weeks later, he put us together."
The legend of a morose, non-communicative Pavelich doesn't equate with what the Bulldogs saw on the ice or in the locker room.
"Pav was a great prankster," Harrington said. "The one we all remember is when he had been out partridge hunting, wounded one, kept it alive and brought it to practice. He put the bird in John Rothstein's locker, John opened the locker, the bird came out with a startle, and Rothstein almost keeled over."
Schneider gives Pavelich credit for the Conehead description that made the line of Bah, Buzz and Pav notorious during the Olympics — and films that followed.
Herb Brooks, the winner of his third and last Gophers title with the 1979 team, was earning his international fame as the Olympic coach.
"He would have the other lines practicing power plays at the other end of the ice, and we'd be down where they had orange cones for skating drills," Schneider said. "One day Pav said, 'Look, the Rangers, we're stuck down here with all these cones. Just like TV ["Saturday Night Live"] … we're just a bunch of Coneheads.' "
Schneider was the oldest player on the team but also close to Pavelich, because his wife, Gayle (Warn), was from Eveleth, and her father and Pavelich's father worked together as instructors at a vocational school.
"The centers mostly played north-and-south back then," Schneider said. "Pav was different. He would paint the picture for himself coming up the ice. He was spontaneous. He would see the possibilities."
Brooks brought Pavelich to New York when Herbie became coach of the Rangers. People have set the scene of Ron Greschner and his model wife, Carol Alt, walking out the players door at Madison Square Garden in matching fur coats, with cameras flashing, and Pavelich exiting quickly behind them, wearing his Eveleth letterman's jacket lightly smeared with the remnants of game or fish.
"Pav just had a birthday and all the players from 1980 sent him text messages with congratulations, encouragement and wise remarks," Schneider said. "He responded with good humor.
"We've had regular phone conversations. He was sounding good. This is tough for all of us. And you talk about the Coneheads. There was the main Conehead … Pav."