Paul Jerrard is used to being a rarity in hockey. He was as a player. And he is even more so now as a coach.
A black coach.
Not that is what he considers himself to be.
"I'm just another coach in the league trying to do the best I can."
Jerrard played a decade in the minor leagues from 1987 through 1996. The physical, right shooting defenseman also played five NHL games with the Minnesota North Stars in 1988-89. The highlight - despite playing just a couple of shifts - was playing in Winnipeg in front of his family
Jerrard was born and raised just outside of Winnipeg. His father, who was white, tried making ends meet as a labourer. Because of the shift work, it was often his mother, who emigrated from Jamaica and put herself through nursing school, who took their only son (there was also three daughters) to hockey practices.
Jerrard's was more interested in her son pursuing an education rather than hockey. Jerrard was able to accomplish both when enrolled at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He played four seasons there while earning a degree in recreation management with a minor in business administration.
"I was the first black player to play there," Jerrard said.
Playing both forward and defense, Jerrard was drafted by the New York Rangers in the ninth round (173rd overall) of the 1983 entry draft. He was traded to Minnesota in the fall of 1988 and played for six years with the farm team in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
But through it all, Jerrard was able to stay away from most of the expected racial slurs
"There's a lot of things said in the heat of battle," Jerrard said. "Did it hurt? It stung. It just stung, and then the sting went away. Is it right? No. But I didn't run into it a lot."
Late in his minor league career Jerrard began playing under coach Bob Hartley. Though Jerrard was late in his career and was a frequent healthy scratch, Hartley became a fan of Jerrard's and later introduced him to coaching.
"He's a quality guy. Unbelievable team guy. I know his passion for the game and his commitment to the game," Hartley said.
The two reunited in Colorado with the NHL Avalanche. Hartley hired Jerrard as a video coach.
Jerrard later joined the Dallas Stars organization, coaching in the minor leagues. He later served as an assistant coach in Dallas under head coach Glen Gulutzan.
"I look at it more like a passion than a job. To say there was a defining moment, I don't know," Jerrard said of the transition from player to coach. "My passion is to help people that want to be helped. I'm not here to motivate them."
"I consider myself fortunate to still be able to make a living with the game," he said.
He has head coaching aspirations, but is also careful to be happy in the moment.
"I don't want to take too big of a step too early," Jerrard said. "Do I want to be a head coach? Yeah. But I want to be a head coach in the right situation."