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Remembering Paul Jerrard: The stories, memories and impact of the 'classiest man in hockey'

From LSSU to Omaha, teammates, coaches, players and friends reflect on the life of the Paul Jerrard, who died last month

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Omaha assistant Paul Jerrard, 57, passed away on Feb. 15 after a lengthy battle with cancer. “Throughout his battle, Paul refused to compromise on who he was or change his mindset," said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet, who hired Jerrard back in 2018. "No matter the circumstances or how he felt, Paul showed up every day and gave his very best for the good of the team and for the good of others.”
Contributed / Omaha Athletics

OMAHA, Neb. – Scott Borek put it best – “The world lost a good man, a damn good man. For everything he accomplished in this game, he was the most humble guy. And all of us that got to know Paul Jerrard are better because of it.”

Borek and Jerrard spent two seasons together behind the bench at Lake Superior State, Jerrard’s alma mater. The Manitoba native played 156 games in a Laker sweater from 1983-1987 and helped pave the way for LSSU’s national championship in 1988.

Jerrard certainly left his mark in Sault Ste. Marie, but little did people know at the time how much of an impact he’d go on to have.

“Paulie was the classiest man in hockey,” said Ken Martel, who played with Jerrard for two years and was his roommate for a year. “People use these cliche words about people all of the time, but Paul truly was one of them. He was unique and he had this way about him that’s hard to describe.

“As a player, he was someone you didn’t want to go into a corner with and he was such a fierce competitor. But he was always so genuine and deeply cared about other people. Both on and off the ice, and he always put others before himself.”


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Paul Jerrard played 156 games at Lake Superior State from 1983-1987. “Paul was somebody that I would send my son to play for in a heartbeat,” Bob Mancini said. “He’s someone that you would trust your family with and he’s so special. He always was and he’s someone I’m fortunate I was able to call a friend.”
Contributed / LSSU Athletics

Jerrard passed away on Feb. 15 after a lengthy battle with cancer, a loss that hit home for many throughout the hockey community. He was only 57 and is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and daughters, Catherine and Meaghan.

You won’t meet many people more respected around the sport, as evident by the constant outreach of support and tributes since his passing.

One former player quipped the most negative thing you’ll ever hear about Jerrard was he was hard to play against, but it’s true.

“I was so blessed to meet Paul at a young age and I promise you there isn’t a nicer guy around,” said Grant Clark, who followed Jerrard from Notre Dame College (Wilcox, Sask.) to LSSU. “We played football together, we played hockey together and then we followed each other to Lake State. And he was as honest as they come and always put others first.

“We just remained such close friends over the years and he’ll be greatly missed.”

“He was always someone with a warm heart and he would light up every room he was in,” added current Michigan Tech head coach and former LSSU teammate Joe Shawhan. “He was intense and passionate when he needed to be on the ice, but he was one of the most loving and caring people off of it for his family and friends.”

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Paul Jerrard (second from right, bottom row) pictured with the Notre Dame Hounds. Jerrard and Grant Clark, his Notre Dame teammate, went on to play with each other at Lake Superior State. “Notre Dame was built on character and having heart and never giving up," Clark said. "The motto was struggle and emerge, and Paul was the perfect Notre Dame man.”
Contributed / Grant Clark

The Rink Live talked to dozens of people over the last two weeks who crossed paths with Paul Jerrard throughout his hockey career. 

Ranging from teammates to coaches, to those who played for him – both at the college and professional level. Each person was asked a series of questions, including their favorite memories of and with Paul Jerrard. 


Below is a compilation of some of the countless stories that were shared.

A barrel and a work ethic

When LSSU head coach Frank Anzalone visited Jerrard while playing for the Notre Dame Hounds, it wasn’t a goal or impressive defensive play that initially caught his eye.

“Paul’s mother, Merline, worked her whole life, and I always had a lot of respect for her. And Paul had that same work ethic,” Anzalone said. “When I saw Paul at Notre Dame he was out there pushing barrels of snow and cleaning the ice, and that was one of the things that impressed me while we were looking at him.

“I’ll never forget it, but his mom’s quote to me when he first came to Lake Superior State was ‘take care of my son.’ Paul Jerrard was a tremendous man and our program benefited from having him in it.”

Paul Jerrard LSSU Vertical 1.JPG
Paul Jerrard got his coaching career started at LSSU in 1997. He returned for three more seasons before jumping to the pro game. Jerrard had stops with the Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames organizations before finishing his coaching career in Omaha.
Contributed / LSSU Athletics

“He wasn’t always the most talented but that never deterred him. He kept working and doing all of the extra little things, and he earned everything he got,” Clark added. “We didn’t have a Zamboni and we were still a newer school at the time, and Paul was one of the first ones every day helping scrape and clean the ice by hand so we could skate.”

The shift to the wing

Although most of his focus behind the bench has been on the blue line, Jerrard carved out a 10-year professional career as a forward.

He first came to Lake Superior State as a defenseman and the move up front happened by freak chance.

“I remember the story clear as a bell, but during his freshman year he was not dressing for a home game and he was back at the dorms. And one of our players got sick,” Anzalone said. “It was a forward and I had always thought of Paul as a forward, so I had one of the assistant coaches call Paul and he rushed to the arena and got dressed.


“He played right wing that night and he never changed. He wound up playing pro as a forward and he and I always talked about that night as something that helped his career.”

“I remember everyone was calling the dorms and calling everyone they could, and this was before cell phones,” added Bob Mancini, who was an assistant on Anzalone’s staff. “Finally we got ahold of him and he showed up and was one of the best players on the ice.”

Making a difference

On top of coaching, Jerrard was heavily involved with College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and he strived to make the world a better place.

As a Black coach in a predominantly white sport, he also used his platform as a way to educate and benefit others.

“I remember when we were teammates back in Kalamazoo, Paul was always very proud of his heritage. He wanted to educate others and convey it in a proud and respectful way,” said North Dakota head coach Brad Berry, who played with Jerrard with the Kalamazoo Wings in 1991. “He was always so genuine and one of the most trustworthy and caring people out there.

“He left his legacy as a player and a coach, but his work with diversity and inclusion is some of what I’m proudest of.”

One of the best examples is former Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville.

“He was just such a selfless human being,” Saville said. “He was honestly a father figure to me and such a role model both in hockey and the black community. He taught me more than I probably ever realized about my culture and playing in a predominantly white sport, especially my first couple years. He helped guide me and show me how to be proud of my culture.


“You never really realized how important he was not only to the hockey community, but the world. Now you’ve seen how many people have shown their support or shared their stories, and all of the tributes. It’s incredible and that’s a testament to the type of person he was.”

A ‘full circle’ recruitment

For one member of Omaha’s current roster, the ties to Jerrard run deep. Victor Mancini’s father, Bob, was an assistant coach while Jerrard was at LSSU. Those days in Sault Ste. Marie came full circle when Victor first arrived in Omaha.

“I took the job leading up to Paul’s freshman year and I picked him up when he first got to town,” Bob said. “So when Victor came to UNO, I was overseas and couldn’t come on his first day.

“I got this text in the middle of the night over there from Paul saying “you were there to pick me up on my first day at LSSU, I’m happy I can be here on your son’s first day at UNO.” And you ask yourself, who does that? Paul Jerrard does that, and that’s the type of person he was.”

“I had heard stories from my dad but getting to know him was so special,” Victor added. “He was a great coach, a great person and just such a role model. And a great father and a great husband away from the rink. He was such a strong individual and he’s made me not only a better hockey player, but more importantly a better person.”

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Paul Jerrard is one of the main reasons defenseman Victor Mancini ended up at Omaha. “As good of a hockey player and hockey coach as he was, he was a better human,” Mancini said. “He made people around him better people and he made this world a better place.”
Contributed / Omaha Athletics

Sure, the program itself, the rest of the coaches and the facilities played a role in Victor choosing Omaha. But the biggest factor may have been Jerrard.

“At the end of the day, it’s not unfair to say one of the biggest reasons Victor chose UNO was Paul Jerrard,” Bob said. “There are seven Division I schools in Michigan and my wife did not want Victor to leave Michigan.

"But when Victor said he wanted to play at Omaha and after we spent time with Paul, my wife looked at me and said “Victor’s in good hands.”


Maintenance work

It’s a phrase that’ll forever be etched into the minds of many who played for Jerrard … maintenance work.

“He was always buzzing around the ice and some days he probably even got more involved in the drills than the players,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet, who also played for Jerrard with the Iowa Stars. “He always brought a lot of juice, a lot of energy and pushed you to be a little better.

“And personally, when I was a healthy scratch, he’d be in charge of what he called “maintenance skates” and he made going through something difficult enjoyable. Him and I formed a bond because of it.”

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Paul Jerrard pictured behind the Omaha bench. “He was always such a fun guy to be around and always a really supportive teammate,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. “I really enjoyed getting to know Paulie back in (Kalamazoo) and we remained friends from then on. He had an impact on so many people around the game and the way he treated people was unbelievable.”
Contributed / Omaha Athletics

“He would always go so hard during the extra skates and he’d go in and win races and puck battles,” added former goaltender Richard Bachman, who played for Jerrard with the AHL’s Texas Stars (2009-2013) and Utica Comets (2015-16). “Then he’d go out during the bag skates and skate faster than every player on the ice. And he’d be smiling the entire time.”

That competitive fire was just as evident in recent years.

“Whether you were coming back from injury or had a tough day, he would always say it’s just a little bit of maintenance work,” former Omaha and current Iowa Wild forward Kevin Conley said. “He’d always have that smile on his face when he said it and he’d make a hard day of work seem like it was nothing. He pushed you but you always knew he wanted to make you better.”

'What's this rat's nest?'

Saville laughs about it to this day, but one of his first encounters with Jerrard during the summer of 2019 will stick with him forever.


“I had my big afro and really didn’t care what my hair looked like when I got to Omaha,” Saville said. “But during the first week we were on campus, he came up behind me one day and grabbed a handful of my hair, pulled me back and said ‘what’s this rat’s nest?’ Go fix it.

“So I don’t really think much of it and a few days later he took me to a barber shop and made me get my haircut because he couldn’t stand it anymore. A lot of the guys from our freshmen class still joke about it and it’s one of my favorite memories of PJ.”

Life of the locker room

There are numerous stories of the personality that followed Jerrard into every locker room. And his positivity was infectious.

“He brings something to a locker room that not all coaches can,” said Maxime Fortunus, who played for Jerrard in the Dallas Stars organization. “He always brought this easiness to be around and a calmness that I think helped every team he was a part of.”

Fortunus said some of his favorite memories involved Jerrard walking into the locker room, flipping his hat backwards and walking to the beat of the music. Especially after wins.

Max Fortunus
Max Fortunus is currently an assistant coach for the Texas Stars, the same position Paul Jerrard once held. Fortunus said Jerrard was one of the most impactful coaches he ever played for, both on and off the ice. “If you look up the definition of a great human you’ll see Paul’s name next to it,” Fortunus said. “He carried himself with respect and was such a role model for every player he coached.”
Contributed / Andy Nietupski, Texas Stars Hockey

That evolved over the last few years in Omaha.

“You didn’t want to get in his way when he came in the locker room after a win,” said a laughing Ryan Jones, who played two seasons under Jerrard at Omaha. “He’s not a yeller or one to fully express his emotions. But after a big win, he would come into that locker room and he would get so excited. You could just tell how proud he was and I’ll always remember that.”

“I remember in the Pod when that “who let the dogs out” phrase got going,” added defenseman Brandon Scanlin, who spent three seasons under Jerrard at Omaha. “After every win, you could bank on him coming in with that huge smile on his face and just waiting on someone to say who let the dogs out? Everyone loved it.”

'That smile'

There are a few things people point to when asked about Jerrard — a calm demeanor, his sense of humor and his smile.

“That smile is the thing I’ll always picture in my mind,” said Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato, who played (IHL) and coached (NHL) with Jerrard in Colorado. “As coaches you spend endless hours with each other, on planes, watching video, in meetings, at dinner, on buses - you name it.

“That was the year I really appreciated how special he was as a person and he knew how to handle anything and everything in life in the right manner.”

Paul Jerrard spent four years playing at Lake Superior State before going on to a 10-year career. His career started with the IHL's Colorado Rangers. “He was the perfect human being,” said Tony Granato, one of Jerrard's Colorado teammates. “He honestly didn’t have a flaw and it wasn’t ever an act with Paul. He was the most selfless and wonderful person you could be around, period."
Contributed / LSSU Athletics

“He used hockey as a way to positively impact so many people,” Berry added. “He was such a strong person and he shared so much with people both on and off the ice. And I think you’re seeing how many people he’s touched.

“I think if you asked Paul he’d be a very humble man and be the first one to say he doesn’t want or need the attention and recognition, because that’s who he was. But he deserves it and at the end of the day I think it’s awesome how many people he’s brought together. He’ll certainly be missed."

Jordan McAlpine is a junior and prospects reporter for The Rink Live.
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