Mark Pavelich dead at 63
by Andrew Podnieks|06 MAR 2021
Team USA’s Mark Pavelich during an exhibition game against the Soviet Union at Madison Square Garden prior to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
photo: Bruce Bennett Studios / Getty Images
One of the heroes from the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, Mark Pavelich, died at Eagle’s Healing Nest in Saulk Centre, Minnesota in the early morning of 5 March. He had been a patient at the treatment facility for several months while receiving treatment for mental health issues.

“We are saddened to hear about the passing of 1980 Olympic gold medalist Mark Pavelich,” USA Hockey said via social media. “We extend our deepest condolences to Mark’s family & friends. Forever a part of hockey history.”

“His determination, passion, and dazzling playmaking ability earned him the adoration of Rangers fans during his five-year tenure in New York,” the New York Rangers said in a statement. “Mark helped inspire a nation through the integral role he played on the 'Miracle on Ice' team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Our thoughts are with Mark's loved ones during this difficult time."

A native of Eveleth, Minnesota, Pavelich played his way onto the Olympic team after three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He spent the 1979/80 season with the U.S. Olympic Team and earned praise from Herb Brooks for his tenacious play. 

Pavelich earned two assists in the Miracle on Ice game, a 4-3 win over the Soviets on 22 February 1980, that led to the team’s gold medal. His first helper on a Buzz Schneider goal tied the game in the first period, and his second came on the game-winning goal by Mike Eruzione midway through the third. 

But he also earned an assist earlier in the tournament on a Bill Baker goal in the team’s first game of the Games. That goal came with just 27 seconds remaining and gave the Americans a 2-2 tie with Sweden. Without that positive momentum, and point in the standings, the Americans might never have won gold. Pavelich scored his only goal at those Olympics in a 7-3 win over Czechoslovakia. In all, he had six assists and seven points.

That incredible win in Lake Placid proved to be a launching pad for many NHL careers, but success wasn’t so immediate for Pavelich. Undrafted, he played the 1980/81 season in Switzerland, with HC Lugano, but then new New York Rangers coach Herb Brooks, knowing Pavelich well from 1980, signed him to a contract.
Mark Pavelich launch his NHL career with the New York Rangers after the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics.
photo: O - Pee-Chee / Hockey Hall of Fame
Pavelich didn’t disappoint. As a rookie he had 33 goals and 76 points, Rangers records for rookies to this day. The Rangers were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs, and that allowed Pavelich to play for his country again, at the World Championship in Sweden. 

It was a mini-reunion of sorts as many players from the Miracle team also played, namely Bill Baker, Bob Suter, John Harrington, Phil Verchota, Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, and Pavelich. The U.S. could not replicate their miracle, however, and finished fifth. 

Pavelich scored 37 goals then next year with the Rangers and 82 points in his third season. But when Brooks was fired by the team and replaced by Ted Sator, Pavelich’s play diminished. Brooks ended up in Minnesota the next year and acquired Pavelich for a brief time, but he ended his career in Europe. He later came out of retirement briefly, playing his final two pro games with the San Jose Sharks in October 1991.

Pavelich’s life changed forever in 2012. After an early divorce, he married Kara Burmachuk in 1994 and lived a contented life in small-town Minnesota. But she died after an accidental fall and Pavelich’s mental health went into steep decline. The low point came in 2019 when he assaulted a friend and neighbour, but rather than face jail time the judge deemed Pavelich mentally incompetent and assigned him to a secure treatment facility. 

Cause of death is not yet known, but one of a tight-knit hockey family has passed on, an end too soon to a life that celebrated the highest highs and knew also of the lowest lows.