‘He wanted to bring out the best in other people’ Hockey-lifer Jerrard learned game on rinks of East Kildonan
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Paul Jerrard played more than 10 years of professional hockey before finding his calling behind the bench — a historic run that included stints as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames.
The impact left by Jerrard goes well beyond his hockey resume. After he lost his battle with cancer on Wednesday at the age of 57, those closest to Jerrard paint a picture of a man who wanted to improve the lives of everyone he crossed, whether it be on or off the ice.
“As a humble, hard-working, good guy. A great friend. A great family man. A person of faith. Someone who would go to the ends of the earth to help you, give you the shirt of his back,” said Paulette Jerrard-Gillert, Paul’s sister, in an interview with the Free Press from her Winnipeg home Thursday. “As much as hockey was an important part of his life, it was always about being a good person and influence. He just wanted to lift you up, encourage you, bring the best out of somebody else, out of other people.”Paul Jerrard played more than 10 years of professional hockey before finding his calling behind the bench.
Jerrard grew up in Winnipeg, in the community of East Kildonan, where his father, John, would drive him to and from hockey practice at Morse Place Community Centre. That’s where his love of the game first blossomed, eventually leading to a roster spot on Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame Hounds U18 AAA team.
From there, Jerrard earned a full scholarship to Lake Superior State University, where he played four seasons for the Lakers before turning pro. He was selected in the ninth round — 173rd overall — by the New York Rangers in the 1983 NHL Draft, but spent most of his career in the minor leagues.
He amassed 503 games in the IHL, playing for the Colorado/Denver Rangers, Kalamazoo Wings, Albany Choppers, Milwaukee Admirals and Fort Wayne Komets. Jerrard also had 153 games in the AHL, all with the Hershey Bears, including a Calder Cup championship in his final season in 1997. He registered a combined 94 goals and 170 assists for 264 points.
Jerrard would reach his dream of playing in the NHL shortly after graduating college, suiting up for five games with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1988-89 season. He was one of only a few Black players in the NHL at the time.
“As a humble, hard-working, good guy. A great friend. A great family man. A person of faith. Someone who would go to the ends of the earth to help you, give you the shirt of his back.”–Paulette Jerrard-Gillert, Paul’s sister
“To think back to the ‘70s and having to go through that as a kid, (skin colour) was always a barrier. He was often the outsider looking in,” Jerrard-Gillert said. “But while it was a barrier, he wasn’t going to let it stop him.”
A big influence in Jerrard’s life was his mother, Merline. Originally from Jamaica, she immigrated to Canada with very little besides the hope of giving her children a better life.
She preached the importance of education, resulting in Jerrard pursuing the college route, and set an example for what hard work looked like. It’s part of why Winnipeg always held a special place in his heart.
“He never forgot where he came from,” said Jerrard-Gillert. “His roots in Winnipeg were important. I think our humble beginnings really stuck with him.”
Jerrard still had a year left on his contract with the Bears when his alma mater came calling with an opportunity to become the team’s assistant coach. He’d spend four of his first five years coaching the Lakers – with one season as assistant coach with the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters mixed in between — before getting a shot with the Avalanche.
He’d spend just one year in Colorado before returning to the AHL, where Jerrard had stints as assistant coach with Hershey (2003-05), Iowa (2006-09) and Texas (2009-11). When Texas head coach Glen Gulutzan got prompted to coach the Dallas Stars, he asked Jerrard to join his staff.
After a few more years coaching in the AHL, Jerrard was once again asked by Gulutzan to return to the NHL, this time with the Calgary Flames (2016-18). While with the Flames, Jerrard was the only Black coach on an NHL bench.
“The impact that he had on me, not just as a hockey player, but as a person, was indescribable,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon, who spent time with Jerrard at the AHL and NHL levels while with the Stars organization. “As a 20-year-old kid coming up to play pro hockey in Texas, not really knowing much about the pro game or being on your own away from your family, I really can’t say enough good things about him. He’s affected positively so many people away from the rink and players that are now in the NHL.”
Jerrard was also a fierce advocate for bettering the game of hockey.
“He never forgot where he came from… His roots in Winnipeg were important. I think our humble beginnings really stuck with him.”–Paulette Jerrard-Gillert, Paul’s sister
He was a long-time player rep, spending much of a decade working with the Professional Hockey Players Association to ensure the game was better for those who came after him. Jerrard was picked as one of five Era Representatives to be honoured at the PHPA’s 50th anniversary gala in 2017, a recognition of his commitment to the PHPA during his playing career.
When Jerrard was hired as an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2018, he became heavily involved with an initiative called College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion right up until his death. He would take time with student-athletes to talk about sensitive issues around race, including holding a team discussion following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in 2020.
“I have also had several side conversations with players talking about the adversity players of colour have had to battle through. I share many stories about the adversity I had growing up in a predominantly white sport,” Jerrard said in a 2022 interview with UNO’s athletics department. “My hope is that they will take what they have learned and become better humans once they leave our program.”
“I have also had several side conversations with players talking about the adversity players of colour have had to battle through… My hope is that they will take what they have learned and become better humans once they leave our program.”–Paul Jerrard in 2022 interview
Jerrard is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and their two daughters, Catherine and Meaghan. A funeral is expected to take place in Omaha next week, with additional plans to honour Jerrard in Winnipeg still being worked out.
“He fought with tenacity, doing everything that he could in his power to fight the disease. He fought it with courage and compassion,” Jerrard-Gillert said. “He fought this battle like he was fighting for the Calder Cup.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.