Mark Pavelich, the famed “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey player charged with assaulting his North Shore neighbor last fall, has been found competent to stand trial.
Cook County District Judge Michael Cuzzo found this month that, based on a recent examination, Pavelich “presently has sufficient ability to rationally consult with counsel, understand the proceedings and participate in his defense.” That allows the criminal case to proceed, months after Pavelich was civilly committed.
Pavelich, 62, is facing two felony assault charges and two felony weapons charges after allegedly striking a neighbor with a long metal pole and sending him to the hospital with serious injuries after returning to Pavelich’s Lutsen-area home following a day of fishing together in August.
Pavelich had accused his neighbor of “spiking his beer,” and the victim suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and was “in and out of shock” when he was found, charges state.
Pavelich was found incompetent to stand trial on the charges in October.
In December, Pavelich was committed to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter after being found “mentally ill and dangerous.” The doctor who recommended his commitment said Pavelich may suffer from an “unspecified neurocognitive” affliction. His family has said they suspect CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which may have resulted from repeated blows to the head while playing hockey, including 355 games in the NHL.
“Mark is the most kind and gentle person you’d ever know,” his sister, Jean Gevik, previously told the Star Tribune. “This is a totally different guy.”
CTE — which can only be discovered through an autopsy — often manifests in erratic behavior and has been suspected in the deaths of a number of professional athletes.
After initially refusing treatment, in March Pavelich began to take medication and was following doctors’ orders, according to court filings.
Earlier this week his defense attorney, Chris Stocke, filed a motion to dismiss the two felony weapons charges — possessing a short-barreled shotgun and possessing a firearm with a missing serial number — saying they were found in an illegal search.
“The fruits of the illegal search warrant must be suppressed, which results in the state lacking probable cause to move forward” with the charges.
Stocke did not return a call seeking comment. Pavelich’s next hearing is June 22, and no trial has been scheduled.
For Pavelich, the best outcome may be a plea deal that avoids a trial — and prison time — said David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who has been following the “fascinating and tragic” case. The defense will most likely focus on Pavelich’s mental state at the time of the incident that “could perhaps exculpate responsibility,” he said.
“You don’t want somebody to walk away without being held responsible, but on the other hand he’s likely not responsible for what he did,” Schultz said. “It’s not clear what justice actually is.”
Pavelich attended Eveleth High School and the University of Minnesota-Duluth and was a member of the 1980 U.S. hockey team that upset the Soviet Union and went on to beat Finland to win the gold medal. He played the bulk of his NHL career with the New York Rangers and after retirement in 1992 became a land developer and shied away from the spotlight.
Staff reporter Paul Walsh contributed to this report.