Does anybody else have an athlete or otherwise famous person that you just feel is your complete kindred spirit? Well, that's what Mark Pavelich is to me. (If his name rings a bell, it's probably because I talked about him here. And here. Aaaaaand here.) Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by how much I want to be like him, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed by how like him I actually am, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed by what an absolutely filthy hockey player he was, but either way I'm constantly functioning at 100% overwhelmed. Basically, he's just the greatest, and occupies a very large part of my heart. :) (So this is gonna be super long, but I promise, it's worth it. He's extremely important.)
+ As a kid, Pav spent every waking moment either playing hockey or at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, which is in his hometown. The whole town was hockey-crazed, but Pav was always the first guy on the ice and the last guy off it. Friends say he was a great player even in Squirts, and as he got older he developed into a goal scorer and a playmaker and a guy that was impossible to knock off the puck. A lifetime of pond hockey lent itself to Pav's incredible hockey IQ and a creative, freewheeling style of play that even his teammates were hard-pressed to figure out. Even when he went to college, guys didn't want to play on a line with him because they had no idea what he was going to do. But a certain walk-on named John Harrington decided to give it a whirl, and they ended up becoming the school's most dangerous scoring weapon. In his last season at UMD, Pav finished third in the WCHA scoring race (and could've finished first had he not sat out four games with an injury) with 79 points.
+ Pav's life hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. The summer before he went to college, he was involved in a hunting accident that killed his childhood best friend. He was understandably wrecked about it (to the point where his friends worried that he might do something to himself), but nobody -- even his friend's parents -- blamed him for what happened, because they knew that Pav would never intentionally hurt a soul. Future Olympic teammate Buzz Schneider knew Pav growing up and said that "he'd give you the shirt off his back just to give you something." Even on the ice, Pav was completely selfless, preferring to set his teammates up to score than do the scoring himself, and he made everyone that played with him better. He was a quiet prankster in the locker room, and all his teammates loved him. Even so, every year around the time of the accident, he'd get very quiet and withdrawn. But I've read a lot of articles about Pav, and not one of them contains a single bad word about him.
+ Herb Brooks absolutely adored Pav's style of play and gave him a spot on the Olympic roster in 1979, along with his UMD linemate John Harrington. Those two stayed on a line together and, with the addition of Buzz, made up the Conehead line that Miracle made famous. They were the U.S.'s highest scoring line in the Olympics, and Pav was fifth on the team in scoring in the pre-Olympic season, with 16 goals and 36 assists (52 points) in 60 games. During the Olympic tournament, Pav scored one goal and had six assists in seven games. He dominated Czechoslovakia with a goal and an assist, and assisted Bill Baker's "heroic" goal against Sweden, and had two assists against the Soviet Union, including Mike Eruzione's game-winner. Basically, Pav was the guy working quietly to make it all happen while his teammates got the spotlight, which worked just fine for him. An introvert to the max, Pav is incredibly quiet and private and hated the attention when he scored. So he just casually assisted all the biggest goals of the tournament!
+ Despite putting up some epic numbers in college, Pav went undrafted by the NHL due to his size, or lack thereof; because he's only 5'8", NHL clubs didn't think he'd be able to hack it in the pros. This was an unimaginable disappointment for him. Hockey had been his entire life as a kid, to the point where he did almost nothing else. So this rejection led him to pick up some hobbies and generally learn how to be happy without hockey (spoiler alert: this comes in handy a few years down the road). But even after an epic Olympic tournament, the NHL still wasn't biting, so Pav went to play in Switzerland. It wasn't until Herb became head coach of the New York Rangers in 1981 that Pav got his shot. Herb knew that Pav was a hell of a player, size be damned, and it wasn't long before Pav was centering the Rangers' highest-scoring line and setting a Rangers rookie scoring record! In his second season, he led the team in scoring. In his third season, he became the first American-born player ever to score five goals (!!!!!!) in a single NHL game. And in his fourth season, he set a career high with 82 points (thanks in large part to his 53 assists, holy crap). ALSO, to make this all the more extraordinary, please keep in mind that Pav is an uber-introvert from the farmlands of Minnesota who completely rocked it out in New York City. Is that epic, or is that epic?!
+ Herb was fired from the Rangers in 1984, and that triggered a sea change in Pav's career. Ted Sator, the new head coach, was the absolute antithesis to the creative style that Herb embraced and Pav lived, and wanted to revert the Rangers back to the traditional dump-and-chase style of play. Pav was absolutely not about that life, so in 1986 he decided enough was enough, and retired. Let's stop and think about this: a professional athlete walked away from his sport because it wasn't fun anymore. Not because of a contract dispute, and he didn't care about the money he'd be losing out on, and he was still at the top of his game. He just wasn't having fun, so he stopped. Again, is that epic, or is that epic?! (He un-retired several times to play a few games here and there, but that was pretty much it.) When he left New York, he went back to northern Minnesota and, as his teammates joke, became a recluse who is sighted about as often as Bigfoot. He lives in the middle of nowhere, very privately, just hunting and fishing and doing his own thing. He emerged for a team reunion in 2002, Herb's wake in 2003 and the Miracle red carpet premiere in 2004, but other than that he's kept entirely away from the spotlight. He was in the news recently when he sold his Olympic gold medal, but you won't find him talking to the media much otherwise. Not because he's being rude or aloof; he's just private and not really interested. He marches to the beat of his own drum, only does things that make him happy, and is totally content. :)
You know how I said Pav was an absolutely filthy hockey player? Well, here's my absolute favorite play from the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, which I took the liberty of GIFing for you.
Note how he renders that defenseman completely incompetent. BEAUTIFUL. (The rest of the highlights are worth watching, too!)
Now, regrettably, Pav's media aversion means that there are zero videos of him speaking in front of a camera. But here, watch Mike Eruzione's goal, but keep your attention at the top of the frame -- Pav's the one who falls on his butt but still manages to get the puck in the right direction. ;)
And this has been a novel about my favorite human being. The end. :)