John Harrington and most of the other members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team were in Las Vegas over the weekend, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the team’s gold medal-winning performance.
One notable absence was Harrington’s former Minnesota Duluth teammate, Mark Pavelich.
Pavelich, who had a goal and six assists in seven games at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., is being treated in a state psychiatric facility in St. Peter after being arrested for assault in August.
Pavelich, 61, was charged in Cook County District Court in Grand Marais on Aug. 20 with four counts related to striking his neighbor on the back, arms and legs with a metal pole. He was additionally charged with being in possession of an illegally shortened shotgun that had its serial numbers filed down.
In October, Pavelich was found unfit for trial and a danger to himself and others, and ordered placed in supervised psychiatric care.
“Everybody on our team is really concerned about him and his welfare. If there’s some things that happened to him on the ice, head injuries or anything like that that led to that, that’s a sad thing,” Harrington said, referring to Pavelich possibly suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that often manifests itself in violence and paranoia but that cannot be diagnosed until after death.
Harrington says he has visited his friend and remains in his corner, choosing to first remember the good times.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to him a few times and went to visit him,” Harrington said. “We are all hoping for the best for Mark and are concerned about him. We know what kind of person he is and was when he was a hockey player and teammate of ours, so we wish him the best.”
Harrington added: “He is a little bit of a loner and lives his life that way. But he’s a great conversationalist and over the years we’ve talked. I’ve called him and asked him how things are going with him and he’s talked with me because he follows hockey and wants to know how things are going with me as a coach.”
Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the U.S. team’s 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union, a game in which Pavelich had two assists. He passed the puck to Mike Eruzione on the memorable game-winner.
Other former teammates such as Buzz Schneider, Bill Baker and Mike Ramsey also have visited him recently.
“With us, he’s great. He’s the same Mark I know,” said Schneider, who played alongside center Pavelich and ‘Bah’ Harrington on coach Herb Brooks’ famous “Coneheads” line. “But there are some things he’s got to take care of. He gave me a big hug.”
An All-American at UMD, Pavelich played briefly overseas before finally getting a chance at the NHL when Brooks was made head coach of the New York Rangers. In his first three NHL seasons, he had 99 goals, 134 assists and was a plus-50.
A fellow Iron Ranger, Schneider said Pavelich was his favorite center to play alongside.
“I liked all the centers I played with … but they were more north-south centers,” Schneider said. “Mark was creative, going down the ice almost like an artist, and he used to tell me, ‘Buzz, don’t worry about it, just get in front of the net and I’ll put it on your stick.’
“We keyed off what he was doing, so it was easy for us.”
While Brooks mixed up his other lines, he stuck with the Coneheads from their debut.
“We felt it was because we were playing well and producing,” Harrington said. “I think (staying together) was a good sign. We’re thinking, ‘Hey, he’s leaving us together, maybe that’s a good thing.’ ”
Part of that reason was the symbiotic relationship among the three. Pavelich, an Eveleth native, Virginia’s Harrington and Schneider of Babbitt were familiar with each other from high school. Then Harrington and Pavelich spent three seasons together at UMD.
“Pav and I played a real similar game,” Harrington said. “We wanted to play give-and-go and move the puck and get it back. We’d often say, ‘See ya at the other end.’ And we got to the other end moving the puck up the ice. We understood each other and that certainly helped playing on the Olympic team.”
While Brooks was credited in the movie ‘Miracle’ for using the term Coneheads, Harrington is positive his coach never uttered the nickname.
“I’m nearly certain that Pavelich said, ‘We might as well be cones out here because we never get to do anything on the power play,’ ” Harrington said. “That was popular on “Saturday Night Live” at the time. That became our thing, the Conehead Line.”