» (E) Our pride Mark Pavelic LA Times
|(E) Our pride Mark Pavelic LA Times
|By Nenad N. Bach |
(E) Our pride Mark Pavelic LA Times
Yes Nenad, a member of the miracle on ice, gold medal american ice
hockey team of 1980 Lake Placid. Have great weekend. Bog, Martin.
The miracle now is trying to find Mark Pavelich, who has passed up
By DAVID WHARTON
Times Staff Writer
January 30 2002
Small lakes dot the northern woods of Minnesota, blue specks on the map,
too many to count, and beside one of them Mark
Pavelich lives happily ever after. Far from the sport of hockey that
brought him acclaim. Far from the world and its
"Just the wild and his wife and his dog," a friend says. "He moved out
there for a reason."
Once in a while, he visits the nearby town of Lutsen for groceries or
someone spots him driving his truck on a back road,
headed for a fishing spot perhaps. Few know the exact whereabouts of his
cabin. So when a reporter calls—after getting
the unlisted number—Pavelich is polite but guarded. Mostly "ums" and
"ahs" followed by silence. The conversation quickly
moves to that night in Lake Placid, N.Y., against the Soviet Union, more
than 20 years ago, when he collected the puck
along the boards and slid it in front of the net.
"The past is the past," he says.
That puck ended up on the stick of teammate Mike Eruzione, who scored to
give the U.S. squad an upset over the USSR
on the way to a gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The "Miracle on Ice" still ranks among the nation's greatest sporting
moments and, in many ways, Pavelich was symbolic of
the American team. An underdog because of his small frame. Selfless and
hard working. Quietly fierce. In the years since,
he has become something else: A mystery.
Some of his teammates have basked in the enduring spotlight, playing in
celebrity golf tournaments, getting paid as
motivational speakers. Others have kept in touch by phone, gathering in
small groups for dinners or golf vacations, bonded
by their experience. Pavelich has kept to himself.
The players now hope he will come to their biggest reunion yet. With the
Winter Games back on American soil—and
patriotism in vogue—they have been invited to play an exhibition Friday
at Staples Center, the day before the NHL All-Star
game. It will mark the first time in two decades all of them have
gathered. All, perhaps, but one.
"We may have to send one of those drone planes or Global Positioning
Satellites to find him," former defenseman Ken
Morrow says of Pavelich.
They might have to kidnap him.
"He's not being aloof," says Bill Baker, another former teammate.
"You've just got to know Pav."
Lutsen sits snug against Lake Superior, two hours north of Duluth,
almost to the Canadian border. Even in this town, remote
as it is, the man and his ways are noteworthy.
"People are always talking about him," a local named Doc Rose says.
"How's he doing and what's he doing."
Rose is among the few who have been shown the way to Pavelich's cabin a
dozen miles off the highway. He is a retired
trainer for the Minnesota North Stars—the NHL team that moved to
Dallas—and has known Pavelich for years. He
recalls when the player moved to Lutsen in the late 1980s after playing
professionally in New York, of all places.
Pavelich bought a townhouse by the shore, but, as Rose explains, "he
went into the bush as soon as he got a chance,"
trading his home for a parcel of forest land, moving into a garage with
only a couch to sleep on. From there, he set about
building a cabin.
"One board at a time," Rose says. "Nothing extravagant but well-built.
And you'd have a heck of a time finding it."
There is fishing in the lake outside his door and small game to hunt in
the woods. Asked about his home, Pavelich says only
that "there's a lot of stuff to do other than hockey."
Not that he's a recluse. Several houses stand nearby. Friends who know
the way are met with a friendly welcome and
perhaps a fish dinner cooked on the outdoor grill. Still, the place is
secluded enough that whenever Rose stops by, he feels
as if he is intruding. And visitors, especially acquaintances from New
York, come away wondering how Pavelich survives
The question should be: How did he survive in the bright lights and big
He was born in nearby Eveleth, in rugged country known as the Iron
Range, where boys learn to hunt and fish from an
early age. The town claims to have the world's largest hockey stick at
107 feet long, so they also learn to play.
Pavelich was small for the game, never growing taller than 5 feet 8, but
all those childhood days on outdoor rinks molded
him into a clever skater and stickhandler. "A throwback player who could
control the puck like he had it on a string," says
Baker, who grew up nearby in Grand Rapids.
In the late 1970s, those skills made Pavelich one of the greatest
players in the history of the University of Minnesota
Duluth. They subsequently earned him a spot on the Olympic team.
More than half of the American players and their coach, Herb Brooks,
came from Minnesota. The others were from
Wisconsin, Michigan and Massachusetts, sworn rivals on the ice. Yet from
this group emerged a close-knit bunch, Pavelich
playing the quiet one.
"I've known him since high school and he was always a man of few words,"
Baker says. "You never know what he's
He earned respect with his work ethic and a knack for passing the puck.
Former goaltender Jim Craig recalls him as "an
honest man, just a wonderful guy to be around."
Little was expected of the Americans that winter, their coach reportedly
telling them before the Olympics it would take
some luck to win a bronze. But after an opening tie against Sweden, they
rolled to four consecutive victories against the
likes of Norway and Romania to reach the medal round against the
Pavelich played an essential, supporting role that night, assisting on
two of the four goals. Two days later, the U.S. defeated
Finland to win the gold medal, and Pavelich wound up with six assists in
the seven Lake Placid games.
The players became overnight heroes, appearing on television, visiting
the White House, attending promotional events
across the nation.
"A lot of commotion," Pavelich says. "I tried to avoid it as much as
Then he signed with the New York Rangers and moved to Manhattan. The
team photo shows a young man with shaggy
hair and heavy features, his lips pressed together in only the faintest
semblance of a smile. He claims to have enjoyed his
time in New York, taking in the sights of the city, but teammates recall
he wasn't much for the nightlife.
"He'd rather do his job and be gone," says Baker, who joined his pal in
New York for a season. "He'd rather go to the
corner bar, have a few beers and talk to the old-timers than go to
On the ice, Pavelich scored 76 points as a rookie—still a team
record—and led the Rangers the following season with 37
goals, five of them in a memorable game against the Hartford Whalers.
Though such numbers surely established him in the
league, he retired after only five seasons because of differences with a
There would be flickers of comebacks, a dozen or so games with the North
Stars and San Jose Sharks, but his career was
"It was pretty easy," he says. "I just stepped away from it." ___
The players who reunite at Staples Center this weekend like to joke that
Eruzione made a career of his historic goal. That
includes two decades of working as a broadcaster, speaking at corporate
meetings and playing in celebrity golf
"When the Olympics ended, Mike and I ... thought we could have some fun
with this for a year, maybe two," his agent, Bob
Murray, says. "In our wildest dreams we never thought he'd still be
Craig, too, gets hired as a motivational speaker.
"It was more than a hockey game," he says. "I've learned over the years
how much this meant to people."
But for Pavelich, those two weeks in Lake Placid seem distant. He
describes himself as "kind of retired" and says a couple
of years have passed since he last wore a pair of skates. Rose guesses
he saved enough money from his playing days to
live simply and comfortably, often fishing for his dinner. There is
little need for nostalgia.
So he has skipped every reunion, large and small, save for the wedding
of former teammate Steve Christoff. Even those
players who live within a few hours' drive of Lutsen say they have not
seen him in years.
"I call him to see how he's doing," says Phil Verchota, now a bank
executive in Willmar, Minn. "He's just private. He
doesn't like social functions."
His teammates hoped he would make an exception for a golf vacation they
arranged in South Carolina two years ago. They
left a plane ticket for him, and Baker, now an oral surgeon in Brainerd,
Minn., arrived early at the airport, eager to talk
about old times.
"I waited and waited but he never showed," he says. "I had an empty seat
beside me on the plane."
This time, with an insurance company paying to bring the team to Los
Angeles, Pavelich is noncommittal when asked if he
will come. "Well, um ... we'll see," he says.
Verchota, who spoke to him recently, was doubtful.
The players say they will be disappointed if he does not attend, but
also admit to getting a certain amount of enjoyment from
his reticence. They joke about him being a hermit. They speculate about
him chasing Bigfoot.
And, in more serious moments, they suspect he isn't so mysterious after
"He could care less about the limelight," Craig says. "He just lives his
life and is happy ... all of us should be that
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