The Ranch – Teammates for Life

was Mark Pavelich’s final dream

By Bryan Zollman

Mark Pavelich was known for the assist he made on the game-winning goal in the 1980 Miracle On Ice game. But his greatest assist came July 8 with the unveiling of a statue in Sauk Centre, Minn., and a ceremonial ribbon cutting officially opening The Ranch – Teammates For Life.

The Ranch is a home for former athletes who are suffering from traumatic brain injury or struggling with mental illness to find hope and healing amongst their peers on the Eagle’s Healing Nest campus in Sauk Centre where veterans have been receiving similar care for years.

Pavelich was a resident at the Nest when he passed away from suicide on March 4, 2021. Before his passing, he told close friends and family his dream of one day having a place called The Ranch where former players could gather to work on their mental health struggles.

Former NHL players Clint Malarchuk, T.J. Gorence, and Barry Beck came together along with Mark’s sister Jean and cousin Jack to create a board of directors to help facilitate the process of building The Ranch. Because the Eagle’s Healing Nest was the place Mark found solace and care, it was a perfect match for The Ranch. One of the buildings has since been remodeled and is close to opening for residents.

“I can’t believe how much compassion there is, how much generosity there is; we’ve had so many people reaching out,” said Mark’s sister, Jean Pavelich Gevik. “Hopefully, if we can help somebody else, it would mean so much to him; that’s what he wanted.”

Teammates from the 1980 team Bill Baker, Buzz Schnieder and Mike Ramsey were on hand for the opening ceremonies and golf tournament held Monday, July 10, at Greystone Golf Club in Sauk Centre. Mike Eruzione, the player who received the pass from Pavelich and netted the game winning goal was scheduled to attend as well, but his flight got cancelled until the following day. He reiterated how much he had wanted to be there to support Mark and The Ranch, but the unfortunate circumstances at the airport didn’t allow it. Instead he made a phone call Monday to address the crowd who were at the golf event.

“I want to congratulate and thank all of you for an incredible tribute to Mark,” Eruzione said. “Of all the teammates I have had, I don’t think people realize how good he was. Because he was so quiet and didn’t say much, a lot of people don’t realize how good he was. He was such a positive influence for us.”

Eruzione said Pavelich was just a regular guy who wanted to play hockey and play his guitar. He also loved to hunt and fish and found pleasure in the outdoor activities he could enjoy while at the Eagle’s Healing Nest.

Pavelich came to the Nest after a stay at the St. Peter State Hospital, where he was sent following an incident where he was accused of assaulting a neighbor following a fishing trip. A judge found him incompetent to stand trial and Pavelich’s mental health issues suddenly became well known. However, after arriving at St. Peter State Hospital, he reached out to friends and family members and did not feel like St. Peter was the proper place for him.

The Nest seemed like a perfect spot and executive director Melony Butler picked Mark up in St. Peter and drove him to the Sauk Centre campus. He resided at the nest for several months, making new friends and could often be found playing his guitar or walking his dog. But Pavelich knew that if he got better, he would have to stand trial and likely serve jail time. If he got worse, he would be forced back to St. Peter State Hospital, a place he dreaded. With seemingly no path to return to his home in northern Minnesota, he ended his life on March 4, 2021. But not before making it known that he wanted a place like the Nest for hockey players and other athletes struggling with the same mental health challenges he had.

And now, just over two years later, that dream is coming to fruition.

“It’s very refreshing to see the support this has gotten from everybody,” said Bill Baker, who shared stories about Pavelich and their time together in 1980.

Eruzione said Pavelich would be embarrassed for the statue and all the attention he is getting. But he would also be very proud that other people with mental health issues now had a place to go.

“I remember all the good things about him, as a teammate, as a person, as a friend,” Eruzione said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better person. On behalf of the 80 Olympic team, thank you, thank you, thank you for paying tribute to a gentleman and a great hockey player and somebody who we miss dearly.”  

Dean Reed is a former goaltender who shared his story of his own mental health struggles. He came to the Nest in December and is one of the first residents of The Ranch.

“I am now working on my seventh month and don’t know when I am going to leave,” Reed said. “I’m 53 years old and I am okay with that. So I hope that if somebody you know is struggling you can tell them its okay. It’s fine. Because we know a place you can go and heal.”

That place, thanks to Pavelich and those who are following through with his mission, is now a reality.

“We always hear about Mark’s great assists,” said Reed. “I think Mark’s biggest assist is the fact he made a call one day to his family and to Melony and said I am not doing well. I want to make sure you can help others who are going through with what I have. In my opinion, that is Mark’s greatest assist.”

Reed and Pavelich never played together, and never met. But even though Pavelich is gone, his spirit lives on at The Ranch. He will keep making more assists and in doing so help make many more teammates for life.