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Placid Life

The Miracle Now Is Trying to Find Mark Pavelich, Who Has Passed Up Previous Reunions

January 30, 2002|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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 commotion.

"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 out there.

The question should be: How did he survive in the bright lights and big cities?

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 thinking."

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