Comets Tales: Paul Jerrard

by Don Laible

Feb 12, 2015

Combing through Comets assistant coach Paul Jerrard’s hockey travels can be a bit exhausting.

Jerrard, 49, along with fellow assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner, and head coach Travis Green and Comets, is in Glens Falls for a two-in-two nights with the Adirondack Flames. With a weekend sweep of the Flames, the Comets now have nine straight victories over their North Division rival, and have extended an eight-point edge for first place.

Playing an integral role in forming the team, Jerrard, now in his second season on staff, has come a long way to find the Comets.

Winnipeg, Canada, to the west and south, you see all the prairie you want. It’s cold winters invite pick-up pond hockey and indoor league play. This is where Jerrard’s love of the game began. Just in the past 18 years, Jerrard has shared his hockey expertise with nine different teams. Perhaps to best understand how Jerrard was chosen for the Comets, an understanding of the board game Twister is called for.

Basically, there is a plastic mat spread out, a spinner, and the game board.  Each spin has the needle land on a different colored spot. Where the needle lands determines where a player’s hand or foot are to go. Eventually, players find themselves in unlikely or precarious positions, and fall. But, it’s getting back into the game that makes it fun to play. Jerrard, by his own account, is still playing and having fun as part of the Comets.

“I didn’t think so, but I hoped to,” Jerrard said of making hockey his life more than three decades ago. “It’s (hockey) taken me to places that I wouldn’t ordinarily have seen.”

Cities that Jerrard’s hockey journey have made stops include Denver, Albany, Fort Wayne, Lowell, Minneapolis, and Dallas. The starting line for Jerrard’s path to Utica began in 1983 at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. His four-year experience playing Division l hockey under coach Paul Anzalone provided Jerrard the fuel to keep his passion for the game alive.

As a teenager fully committed to four years at LSSU, Jerrard was drafted in 1983 by the New York Rangers.

“The draft wasn’t as glittery back then as it is now,” Jerrard said. “I knew that I had been rated. A couple of teams interviewed me while I was in high school. I was taken in the ninth round, out of 12. I knew that I was a long way from the NHL.”

Jerrard would arrive in the NHL. In his second professional season (1988-89), Jerrard would skate in five games as a Minnesota North Star, his only NHL sessions. However, as a player, Jerrard learned his craft as a member of nine teams. Beginning at LSSU, and concluding as a member of the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup-winning team in the spring of 1997, Jerrard wore jerseys for IHL and AHL clubs that read Colorado, Kalamazoo, Denver, Minnesota, Albany, Milwaukee, and Fort Wayne.

Even today, decades after sharing the same dressing room with future Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli and Neal Broten, his “cup of coffee” as a North Star remains important, and motivating to Jerrard.

“When I got into those games (Minnesota), Iwas  quite excited,” Jerrard said. “I wanted more. I had a pretty good career, and can always look in a mirror and be comfortable, and at peace with myself.”

Jerrard looks at his time, not only with Minnesota, but throughout all his hockey stops as an honor to have been associated with all his teammates. The players’ names who Jerrard rode the buses, practiced and shared victories and losses with are numerous and impressive. When getting started as a Rangers’ farmhand at the start of the 1987-88 season in Colorado, Jerrard’s teammates included Tony Granato, Peter Laviolette, Ron Duguay, and Mike Richter.

Along Jerrard’s IHL-AHL hockey corridor saw current Syracuse Crunch coach Rob Zettler as a teammate in Kalamazoo and in Hershey (1994-95); Vinny Prospal, a future 1,000-plus game NHL veteran as a fellow Bear; and current Manchester Monarchs coach Mike Stothers as an assistant on Jay Leach’s staff.

In Jerrard’s final campaign skating with the Bears, one of those special associations of his career was cemented with his coach Bob Hartley. More than a league championship was gained in the spring of 1997 for both men.

Next to playing, there’s coaching for those wanting to remain in the game.  There was to be no break, or checking out “other opportunities” outside of the hockey world for Jerrard. It was a victory lap with the Calder Cup, after the Bears topped the Hamilton Bulldogs in the finals, then hello to his alma mater LSSU in the fall of 1997 – as coach.

Four years of working as an assistant in familiar surroundings and interrupted for one season to work as an assistant for his former LSSU coach Frank Anzalone with the AHL Lowell Lock Monsters, Jerrard then found himself back in the NHL. The bond formed while in Hershey with Hartley tightened, as Jerrard was added to the Colorado Avalanche staff.

Hartley, who led the Avalanche to the 2001 Stanley Cup championship, recognized the potential and fascination of Jerrard’s coaching desires.

“I was supposed to be there for three years,” Jerrard remembered of his time in Denver. “I was a video coach and assistant coach. It was a good opportunity for me to cut my teeth in coaching. Bob recognized my talent as a player. He demanded hard work, and I gave it my best. We hit it off that way.”

When Hartley was removed from his position on the Avalanche’s bench in favor of Granato, Jerrard spent the next two seasons teaching and coaching Avalanche hopefuls back in his old stomping grounds in Hershey. From his experiences in working in Denver for a team that included Patrick Roy, Adam Foote, Rob Blake, and Peter Forsberg, to plotting for a second game in as many nights against the Flames in the Adirondack Mountains, Jerrard has much experience to lend to the Comets.

While with Lowell, Jerrard watched a young Zdeno Chara develop as a New York Islanders prospect. With the Iowa Chops, Bobby Ryan was dazzling fans and opponents alike, until being called up to Anaheim. When making it back to the NHL for two seasons, beginning in 2011, with the Dallas Stars, Jerrard’s six degrees of hockey separation with his future employer took shape.

During his first season on Glen Gulutzan’s staff, Jerrard was one of two assistants – the other being current Vancouver Canucks’ bench boss Willie Desjardins. In Dallas, Jerrard once again reacquainted himself with his AHL roots, and familiarized himself with Utica – his ninth coaching stop.

It’s not difficult for Jerrard to look back to those who influenced how he approaches educating today’s Comets. He takes a little from his past to better a player’s game.

“I think of Ken Hitchcock (1993-94 Kalamazoo Wings coach), and his compete, compete, compete style,” Jerrard said. “Kevin Constantine was a very structured guy. I learned the good and the bad (from so many).”

With 18 continuous seasons coaching as an assistant, Jerrard does have hope to one day be the leader on the bench. There have been interviews in the past for the head coach position. If there are frustrations for not having that opportunity yet, it’s not obvious in Jerrard’s voice. He tells of working with great players, and is appreciative of the education that he has gained along the way.

Working hard in Utica remains Jerrad’s mantra. Every day is the same from his perspective. Two or three games in as many days, there is no waving in Jerrard’s approach. Every day is a great one for hockey, as this LSSU grad views his work, starting in Utica.

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