SAUK CENTRE, Minn. — A Minnesota medical examiner says last month's death of “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey player Mark Pavelich inside a treatment facility has been ruled a suicide.
The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Anoka County says the 63-year-old Pavelich died of asphyxia. A report from the office says Pavelich was found with a plastic bag over his head.
Pavelich died March 4 at the Eagle’s Healing Nest in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, where he was undergoing treatment as part of a civil commitment for reportedly assaulting his neighbor in August 2019. He was charged with felony assault, but Judge Michael Cuzzo found Pavelich was incompetent to stand trial.
"He lacks the ability to rationally consult with counsel, is incapable of understanding the proceedings, and is incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency," Cuzzo's order said, according to the Associated Press.
Following the alleged assault, Pavelich’s sister called the violent act uncharacteristic, and said it may be related to head injuries suffered on the ice during a long career that included time in the National Hockey League.
An obituary in the Star Tribune recalls how Pavelich assisted on Mike Eruzione’s winning goal against the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, a game that earned the moniker "Miracle on Ice." That U.S. team went on to win the gold medal.
"We hope he is remembered for his style of hockey, and that it is emulated at all levels," reads the tribute to Pavelich. "Not a style of fights or big hits, but of stick handling, finesse and passing. Those skills, however, did not insulate Mark from the physical style of hockey, suffering several serious head injuries during his playing career."
The obituary also notes Pavelich's love of the outdoors, hunting and fishing, and his beloved dogs.
On its Facebook page the Eagle's Healing Nest honored Pavelich with a post, saying "We are remembering his morning walks at 4:30 am (even in subzero temperatures) with his 4-legged best friend Taz. His love of music and playing the guitar (Green Day). His love of fishing, any kind. No fish house needed. Working in the Woodshop on projects. Sunday Chapel and Bible Studies. His love of helping others. Him visiting with family and friends (young and old). His love of coffee and smoked fish. Remembering a trip to the North Shore and him showing us his favorite beautiful spots. What we are missing most are his smile and love."
In the post the Eagle's Healing Nest also took the media to task for portraying Pavelich in a negative light, "for using the most unflattering pictures, for continuing to bring shame and negative stigma to mental health issues all in order to 'get the story.'”