The University of Nebraska-Omaha said Thursday that Paul Jerrard has died. During his three stints in the NHL over the past 20 years, he was one of the few Black assistant coaches. He was 57.
A spokesman for the school’s athletic department said that Jerrard’s wife told the school that he died Wednesday in an Omaha hospital. Jerrard has been on Omaha coach Mike Gabinet’s staff for the past five years.
Jerrard worked as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames in 2016-18 and the Dallas Stars in 2011-13, as well as the Colorado Avalanche in 2002-03. Jerrard was the only Black assistant coach in the league when he was with the Flames.
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There are only two Black assistants in the NHL right now. Frantz Jean is the goaltending coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Nigel Kirwan is the video coach.
Brad Treliving, the general manager of the Calgary Flames, met Jerrard when they were both playing in the minor leagues. In 2016, he hired Jerrard to coach under Glen Gulutzan. Treliving said that the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native was a genuine person who was a good listener and whose work showed that he cared about building personal relationships.
Treliving said by phone Thursday –
“He was compassionate, he was firm when he needed to be.”
“(Gulutzan) talked about his ability to teach, his ability to connect with players. Players trusted him, and you could see it.”
Between his NHL jobs, Jerrard was an assistant coach for the American Hockey League teams Hershey, Iowa, Texas, and Utica. Before that, he worked for the AHL team Lowell and at Lake Superior State University, where he played from 1983 to 1987.
Travis Green hired Jerrard to work for Utica in 2013. He said that it only took one interview for him to realize that he was the best person for the job.
Green said by phone –
“If you were looking for someone to model a person after, Paul Jerrard would be at the top of a lot of people’s lists.”
“He did love the sport. He loved coaching — it was his passion. Getting to be with him day in, day out, I knew that. He really embraced it.”
In 1983, the New York Rangers picked Jerrard in the ninth round. He played defense in the minor leagues for most of his career. During the 1988-89 NHL season, he played five games with the Minnesota North Stars. After that, he went straight into coaching.
Gabinet said that Jerrard had “quietly been fighting a long-term battle with cancer” in a statement released by the Omaha athletics department. Gabinet, who knew Jerrard since playing for him with Iowa of the AHL in 2005-06 said –
“Our programme will be forever indebted to P.J. for his countless positive impact.”
“P.J. attacked each day with a team-first attitude, vibrant enthusiasm, and an unmatched willingness to help grow and develop our young men. … There were no small jobs for P.J., and he never had a bad day. He made the people around him better, and we will forever miss his presence in our locker room and lives.”
Jerrard was an active participant in the NHL Coaches’ Association BIPOC Coaches Program. In a statement sent by president Lindsay Pennal, the Coaches’ Association said that Jerrard was a great coach and an even better person.
The NHLCA said –
“His commitment to the sport and helping his players and everyone around him improve was unmatched.”
“Paul generously committed his time to mentoring the younger coaches in our programme, sharing advice and wisdom from his extensive hockey career.”
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2018, Jerrard talked about the need for more people of colour to be coaches and officials in hockey.
He said that he hoped kids would see that “if they’re skilled, driven, and passionate, there’s an opportunity for them” if they saw more people of colour on the ice, officiating, or coaching.
Jerrard said at the time –
“I’m just another coach who’s trying to do a good job in the league and stay in the league.”
“I guess I am now in a little bit of a position of a role model, but my drive to be a role model isn’t due to the colour of my skin. It’s just the way I wanted carry myself as a human being, the way I want to be looked at: doing the right thing and working hard.”
With this, we conclude our coverage of Paul Jerrard’s death. At the age of 57, Jerrard passed away after a quiet, lengthy struggle with cancer.