Mark Pavelich, Miracle on Ice Olympic hockey player, dies at 63

Mark Pavelich
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Mark Pavelich, a 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey forward on the Miracle on Ice team, died Thursday, according to USA Hockey and the NHL. He was 63.

Pavelich died at the Eagle’s Healing Nest, a treatment center for mental illness, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, according to Anonka County officials. The cause and manner of death are still pending.

Pavelich was undergoing treatment at the home as part of a civil commitment for assaulting his neighbor in August 2019.

Pavelich had two assists in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games medal round. The U.S. then beat Finland to win the gold medal. Pavelich later played for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams.

At 5 feet, 7 inches, Pavelich was the shortest player on the Olympic team. He spoke softly, when at all, and avoided the spotlight. The Minnesota native was described by one teammate as a “hockey genius.”

“He’s like an artist, painting a picture going down the ice,” Buzz Schneider, a fellow member of the “Iron Rangers” or “Coneheads” line with Pavelich and John Harrington, said in 2015 while waving his hand with a whoosh. “He could see different things, dish that puck off and go across the grain.”

Pavelich was the second 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player to die, after Bob Suter in 2014. Coach Herb Brooks died in 2003.

Pavelich, labeled reclusive, did not attend the team’s reunion to light the cauldron at the 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Salt Lake City.

In 2015, Pavelich drove from Oregon to Minnesota, then to Lake Placid with a childhood friend for a 35-year Olympic team reunion that also paid tribute to Suter. He said it was his first time in Lake Placid since 1980.

In 2019, Pavelich was charged with felony assault, but a judge found he was incompetent to stand trial because he was mentally ill and dangerous.

According to the judge’s order, a psychologist found Pavelich was suffering from delusions and paranoia. Another psychologist found he suffered from a mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, likely related to repeated head injuries.

Pavelich’s family members said in 2019 they believe he suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, after repeated concussions from his time in the NHL. They said they started seeing changes in him a few years earlier, and he had refused help.

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, said in 2019 that her brother’s situation was “heartbreaking.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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