Former NHL assistant Paul Jerrard dies of cancer at 57

Paul Jerrard, one of the NHL’s few black assistant coaches in his three stints in the league over the past two decades, has died, the University of Nebraska-Omaha announced Thursday. He was 57 years old.

An athletic department spokesperson said Jerrard’s wife informed the school that he died Wednesday at an Omaha hospital. Jerrard has spent the past five seasons on Omaha coach Mike Gabinet’s team.

Jerrard spent two seasons as an assistant with the NHL’s Calgary Flames from 2016-2018 and with the Dallas Stars from 2011-2013 and one with the Colorado Avalanche in 2002-03. During his time with the Flames, Jerrard was the only black assistant coach in the league.

There are currently only two black assistants in the NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean and video coach Nigel Kirwan.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who crossed paths with Jerrard when they were playing in the minors and hired him as a coach under Glen Gulutzan in 2016, called the Winnipeg, Manitoba native a genuine person and a a great listener whose attention to cultivating personal relationships showed through in his work.

“He was compassionate; he was firm when needed,” Treliving said by phone Thursday. “(Gulutzan) spoke about his ability to teach, his ability to connect with the players. The players trusted him, and it showed.”

Between his NHL jobs, Jerrard served as an assistant for Hershey, Iowa, Texas and Utica in the American Hockey League and before that he worked for Lowell of the AHL and at Lake Superior State University, where he played 1983 to 1987.

Drafted in the ninth round by the New York Rangers in 1983, Jerrard spent most of his playing career as an underage defenseman. He played five NHL games with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1988-89 season and immediately became a coach after hanging up his skates.

Gabinet, in a statement released by the Omaha Athletics Department, said Jerrard had “quietly fought a long-term battle with cancer.”

“Our program will be forever indebted to PJ for his immeasurable positive impact,” said Gabinet, who knew Jerrard since playing for him with Iowa of the AHL in 2005-06. “PJ attacked every day with a team attitude, vibrant enthusiasm and an unparalleled drive to help grow and develop our young men. … There were no small jobs for PJ, and there “Never had a bad day. He made the people around him the best, and his presence will be forever missed in our locker rooms and our lives.”

Jerrard was an active member of the NHL Coaches Association’s BIPOC coaching program. The Coaching Association, in a statement sent by President Lindsay Pennal, called Jerrard an incredible coach and an even better human being.

“His commitment to the sport and helping to improve his players and everyone around him was unmatched,” the NHLCA said. “Paul has generously dedicated his time to mentoring the young coaches in our program, sharing advice and wisdom from his long hockey career.”

During a 2018 interview with The Associated Press about greater minority representation among hockey coaches and officials, Jerrard said he hopes kids see more people of color on the ice playing or umpiring or behind the bench, training shows that “if they are skilled, motivated and passionate, there is an opportunity for them.”

“I’m just another coach trying to do a good job in the league and stay in the league,” Jerrard said at the time. “I guess I’m in a bit of a role model position now, but my drive to be a role model isn’t due to the color of my skin. It’s just the way I wanted to behave as a being human. , the way I want to be looked at: doing the right thing and working hard.”

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