NHL

Family cites hockey concussions as factor in 'Miracle on Ice' star's legal woes

The family of a player on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic champion men's hockey team says concussions and blows he received during his playing career have contributed to his current legal troubles.

Mark Pavelich found not competent to stand trial on assault charges in Minnesota

Mark Pavelich, right, appears with Jack O'Callahan at a 2015 reunion of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Pavelich has been charged with assault in Minnesota, but his family is arguing he's not responsible because of brain damage suffered during his hockey career. (The Associated Press)

The family of a player on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic champion men's hockey team says concussions and blows he received during his playing career have contributed to his current legal troubles.

Mark Pavelich, 61, was found incompetent to stand trial by a judge in Grand Marais, Minn. on Monday on charges he beat a neighbour with a metal pole. The Cook County judge concluded Pavelich is "incapable of participating in the defence due to mental illness or deficiency." The case against Pavelich was suspended as authorities petition to have him committed.

Pavelich's sister, Jean Gevik, said her brother's personality has been altered by a degenerative brain disease.

"He's been an amazing brother. Fun. Loving," she said. "This has been a total change."

Gevik suggested CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, could be a factor. CTE, which can be diagnosed only after death, has been found in several former NHL players, more than 100 former NFL players and in dozens more athletes and members of the military who have been exposed to repetitive head trauma. The disease can lead to memory loss, depression and even suicide.

"All the research is out there about CTE," Gevik said. "This should not be a surprise here."

Pavelich, far left, celebrates with teammates after the Americans' 4-3 upset over Russia in the semifinals of the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Getty Images)

The NHL has long denied there is a conclusive link between repeated blows to the head and CTE.

Pavelich, who starred at Minnesota-Duluth, assisted on the winning goal in a stunning upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament semifinals, a triumph that has long been referred to as the "Miracle on Ice." Team USA went on to defeat Finland in the gold medal game. Pavelich later played for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams.

Pavelich was charged with second- and third-degree assault this summer after he was accused of attacking his friend in Lutsen following a day of fishing. Pavelich accused him of spiking his beer, according to the Star Tribune.

Jim Miller, Pavelich's neighbour for 20 years, suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fracture to one of his vertebrae, according to a criminal complaint. Pavelich was booked into the Cook County Jail on Aug. 15.

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