The phone rings on a Sunday afternoon and the caller ID, like a Bigfoot sighting, reveals a surprise that brings everything to a halt.

“Hello,” the voice says. “This is Pav.”

Mark Pavelich, elusive man of mystery. He has some time to talk, he says, and though he’s polite, he’s clearly uncomfortable with this whole interview idea.

He’d rather be fishing on Lake Superior. Or in his canoe. Or tinkering with something at the home he built near Lutsen. Anything but having to talk about himself.

Pavelich earned fame as a member of the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team that pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in sports history in 1980 en route to a gold medal. He was one of Team USA’s best players, a creative center who assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal against the Soviets.

Pav has zero interest in outside attention, though. Never enjoyed that part of sports stardom. While teammates maximized and marketed on the miracle, Pavelich retreated to a quiet life in relative solitude in northern Minnesota, even as he played six NHL seasons.

He loves to fish and being outdoors in the woods. He says he doesn’t use a computer and only keeps a TV for watching movies.

He’s attended a few functions with his Olympic teammates over the years, but he mostly shuns the limelight and rarely grants media interviews. He agreed to this one with the help of a third party and after considerable coaxing. And only over the phone, not in person.

Privacy is his sanctuary, a self-described recluse.

“I guess you could call me that,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve always been.”

Pavelich made news this spring when he sold his gold medal for $262,900 through Dallas-based auction house Heritage Auctions.

Former teammates who haven’t spoken to him in years wondered if everything is OK.

No need to worry, Pavelich says. He just wanted to give his adult daughter some financial security.

“It’s definitely going to be good for her,” he said.

Pavelich donated his medal to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in his hometown of Eveleth after returning from Lake Placid. He became the second team member to sell his medal, joining Mark Wells, whose medal went for $310,700 in a 2010 auction.

For Pavelich, the decision became a practical matter. He is able to do something to help his family’s future.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “If anything, you worry about it getting stolen or something burning down and then you don’t have it.”

Pavelich plans to auction his Olympic ring and other memorabilia through Heritage Auctions later this month. He doesn’t sound sentimental about parting with his hockey items. He knows he’ll always have his memories of that special time.

“It can’t help but cross your mind sometimes,” he said. “A lot of people bring it up.”

His remote existence and love of anonymity run counter to our selfie culture. He chuckled at the notion of being labeled a celebrity.

“I’m not really into that,” he said.

He evaded the spotlight as a player, too. Teammates adored him but respected his need for privacy. Eruzione, who became a broadcaster for New York Rangers games following the ’80 Olympics, once asked Pavelich if he’d like to do an interview to show fans more of his personality.

“He said, ‘Rizzo, you know that’s not important,’ ” Eruzione said.

Former players still marvel at Pavelich’s talent, the way he stickhandled and relied on his instincts and imagination to create plays. And those hands, goodness, he was a magician with the puck.

Pavelich loved playing for Herb Brooks, in the Olympics and in NHL, because the hard-edge coach didn’t stifle his creativity. Pav adopted that style as a kid on ponds up on the Iron Range.

“We were in a creative period of hockey in Minnesota [back then],” he said. “Nobody really dumped and chased. We wanted to stickhandle.”

He’d probably cringe if the watched NHL hockey these days (which he doesn’t). He keeps himself busy with his projects in land development, fishing outings and travel schedule.

He’s encountered heartbreak in recent years, too. His wife, Kara, died in a fall from a second-story balcony at their home in 2012. Pavelich politely declined to talk about that tragedy. He prefers to keep his personal life closely guarded.

He’s been that way about most things in his life. He’s perfectly content without fame or attention, or valuable sports memorabilia.

A quiet day in his canoe in northern Minnesota always seems pleasant enough.


Chip Scoggins