Former teammates of 1980 Olympics ‘Miracle’ hockey star work to build ‘The Ranch’

“Teammates for life.” That’s the motto of “The Ranch,” a facility under construction for people experiencing mental health struggles in Sauk Centre, in central Minnesota.

Mark Pavelich came up with the idea for the center before he died by suicide in March 2021.

“I think we all thought he was pretty comfortable in where he was, you never know why lives take the turn that they did,” former Olympian Mike Eruzione said.

Pavelich, who grew up in Eveleth, assisted on the winning goal scored by Team USA’s Eruzione to beat the Soviet Union during the “Miracle on Ice” game back on Feb. 22, 1980, in the Winter Olympics.

Pavelich made key assists on the ice during the Olympics, and soon, The Ranch will make vital assists off the ice to help former athletes, veterans and first responders in need of mental health care.

“‘Pav’ made the plays to make them happen,” Eruzione said. “As a player, you realize how important he was, and how good he was.”

Eruzione remained friends with Pavelich long after winning the gold medal at the Olympics.

In the NHL, Pavelich set a scoring record for the New York Rangers, and Eruzione worked as a broadcaster.

“He said the assist he got on my goal was far greater than the five goals he scored against the Hartford Whalers. That’s a great teammate,” Eruzione said.

Organizers of The Ranch hope to open this summer on the grounds of Eagle’s Healing Nest.

The Ranch: Teammates For Life

Staff will focus on counseling, wellness programs and various therapies, including interacting with horses.

“I love helping people, and especially when it’s something so needed right now,” said Jean Pavelich Gevik, Mark’s sister, who hopes others in need don’t struggle in silence.

Later in life, loved ones say Pavelich battled anxiety, mental illness and the effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries.

Pavelich Gevik recalled the call her brother made to her while at a treatment center, asking her to help start The Ranch.

“It was really his goodbye; I didn’t realize it at the time,” Pavelich Gevik said while wiping away tears. “He said ‘Keep it going.'”

Before Pavelich died, he was facing legal troubles in northern Minnesota for an alleged assault on a neighbor.

He had been civilly committed by the court to receive treatment before the case could continue.

The support from Mark’s teammates and the hockey community to make The Ranch a reality brings Pavelich Gevik comfort.

“The most compassionate group of people, I’ve said it before, they are a godsend,” Pavelich Gevik said.

Pavelich played college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a forward on Team USA coached by Herb Brooks, and in the NHL with the Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks.

“He was just so creative, such a great skater, he had such great vision and he was so unselfish,” said Ronn Tomassoni, a former teammate of Pavelich. “I think it was probably more important to him that he got an assist than a goal, that’s the way he played all through his life.”

Tomassoni first met Pavelich at the Eveleth Hippodrome ice arena when they played squirt youth hockey.

“He had a great sense of humor,” Tomassoni said. “He was just a fun, fun guy to be around.”

Tomassoni, a former hockey coach on Harvard University’s national championship team, is helping fundraise to build The Ranch.

“There’s got to be a better way to help people who are struggling with mental wellness,” Tomassoni said. “This is what he wanted, this was his dream.”