The Passings of Mark Pavelich and Walter Gretzky


Walter Gretzky (above) made a significant impact on the NHL despite never having put on professional skates himself. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The hockey world lost two members of the community this past week. Mark Pavelich, 63, and Walter Gretzky, 82, both passed away on March 4 and left behind important marks in the sport’s history.

Pavelich was a member of the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal team, notching the primary assist on Mike Eruzione’s game-winning goal against the Soviets. Just days after his 63rd birthday, Pavelich passed in a rehabilitation center in Sauk Centre, Minn. The Eveleth, Minn. native was arrested in 2019 for assaulting his neighbor. Three months later, the trial was suspended because the judge found  him incompetent to stand trial. He was ruled “mentally ill and dangerous” and entered the treatment facility in which he eventually passed. 

Bill Baker, 1980 teammate, had just visited Pavelich and came away saying he was normal; “Pav was Pav.” There has not yet been an official report as to the cause of his unfortunate and untimely death, but there is major speculation that Pavelich had CTE, which may now be determined. His sister Jean commented that CTE was a possibility because she had noticed “behavioral changes” in the years leading up to the arrest. Pavelich is the second player from the Miracle team to pass, just six years after Bob Suter. 

Also on March 4, Canadian hockey lost a legend who never played a shift in the National Hockey League. Walter Gretzky, father of Wayne, passed away from Parkinson’s disease on Saturday. Wayne and his brother Keith, who also played in the NHL, credit their father and his legendary backyard rink with developing their skills to the NHL-level. Wayne cites his father with the advice he took to heart for his entire career, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” 

Walter had a much wider impact than just 99, though, as he contributed to minor hockey leagues and many local charities. Wally, as he was called, was known for being among the nicest people one could ever meet. He was kind to the media, who hounded the family at Gretzky’s height, and carried himself with class. Wayne said he had a “sixth sense” for the game; he was known for being hockey’s dad. 

He was awarded the Brantford Citizen of the Year award in 1996, three honorary degrees from various colleges across Canada, and an elementary school in Brantford is called Walter Gretzky Elementary School. He was a giant in the game  as well as community, and will be missed dearly. 

Both Mark Pavelich and Walter Gretzky made fantastic marks on the game. Despite Pavelich’s unfortunate mental health at the end of his life, both were remembered fondly in the wake of their passing. Rest in Peace to both Mark Pavelic and Walter Gretzky.