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
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.”
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.
We’ll play for Paul tonight. All players will have PJ stickers on their helmets.— Lake State Hockey (@HockeyLSSU) February 17, 2023
We also ask that you join us pregame for a moment of silence in remembrance of Paul Jerrard. pic.twitter.com/IKtB6uyQ2y
“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.”
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.”
“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.
Working to make @collegehockey a community where everyone feels they belong— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) October 21, 2021
During #NCAAInclusion week, @OmahaHKY's @pjerrard4 shares why he serves as #NCHChockey rep on #CollegeHockey4DEI. Thank you for committing to make our game more inclusive! 👏
👉 https://t.co/hw1WDEu4Ll pic.twitter.com/iNibUkYuwA
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.
As a goalie you have the chance to customize a mask every year expressing yourself. This year with the help of @HelmetHead_D I decided to include Martin Luther King Jr. to express what I stand for: Equality and unity. Spread peace and love❤️ pic.twitter.com/8bi0BmTQ5j— isaiah saville (@ijsaville31) November 28, 2020
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Special moment before tonight’s @OmahaHKY game.— Jordan McAlpine (@jordan_mcalpine) February 25, 2023
Moment of silence followed by a ceremonial faceoff featuring Paul Jerrard’s wife, Cheryl, and two daughters, Catherine and Meaghan.
Student section chants PJ and those inside Baxter Arena give the Jerrard family a loud ovation. pic.twitter.com/D5xF1IZg7N
'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.
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.”
THIS is a whole mood. 🔥#EveryoneForOmaha | #OmahaHKY pic.twitter.com/yElnfD8TIJ— Omaha Hockey (@OmahaHKY) January 31, 2021
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.”
“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."
Thank you Coach! pic.twitter.com/hM5HWgfdxf— Baxter Arena (@BaxterArena) February 22, 2023