|ESPN.com: Black History 2007||[Print without images]|
|Paul Jerrard's quiet yet firm style is winning over the Dallas Stars' front office.|
On the same weekend Paul Jerrard and his Iowa Stars were battling Omaha and Milwaukee, the NHL was celebrating a successful diversity program in Detroit with its annual youth hockey tournament. The NHL's "Hockey In The Hood 3" tournament welcomed 204 players from age 8 to 16 representing eight diversity programs. The tournament gave players who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance the opportunity to compete against teams from other programs.
"It's a huge deal for these kids to get together," said Ken Martin, head of the diversity project.
There are 39 diversity centers in North America. Coaches are certified by USA Hockey or Hockey Canada. The programs provide ice time, equipment and mentors. Some players also attend USA Hockey summer hockey festivals and other hockey camps. Each program emphasizes skills and education. The NHL's diversity project began in 1995 with five programs targeting inner city African-American boys and girls.
Since then, the diversity efforts have reached places such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alaska, Vancouver and Toronto, and expanded to include children from economically depressed backgrounds who want to learn the game. By the end of the summer, the NHL expects to see diversity efforts in 45 to 50 centers across North America.
Gerald Coleman, a native of Naperville, Ill., became the first graduate of the diversity program to be drafted by an NHL team when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him 224th in 2003. Coleman, a netminder, grew up outside Chicago and got his start in the local program. He was recently traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
There are others. One graduate has gone on to captain the women's hockey team at Northeastern University. Others have gone on to graduate from university or college. In all, more than 40,000 youngsters have been exposed to the game through the diversity program.
-- Scott Burnside
Jerrard, 41, was born and raised on the outskirts of Winnipeg, Manitoba. His father was a white laborer and his mother a Jamaican domestic who put herself through nursing school. His parents met when Jerrard's mother was looking after his father's sick mother in the hospital. The two later married and had a boy and three girls.Because his father worked a lot of shift work, Jerrard's mother would often take him to minor hockey games and practices, sometimes sitting in the stands writing letters. On Saturday nights, the family would watch "Hockey Night in Canada," although Jerrard admits his mother never quite got the hang of the game. Although his mother has been in Canada for 40 years, it wasn't until Jerrard and his wife, Cheryl, were honeymooning in Jamaica in the early 1990s that Jerrard suddenly understood the courage it had taken her to leave. She arrived with a group of young domestics with $40 in her pocket. A couple of the girls ended up in Toronto, a few in Edmonton and some in Winnipeg; they all worked for wealthy families. Even now, Jerrard shakes his head at the journey. In Winnipeg, at least in those days, there really wasn't a black community, Jerrard said. The Jerrards were the only black family on the street and at their church. He recalls some neighbors raising their eyebrows at the mixed-race marriage, but his parents taught him to ignore those kinds of people. When Jerrard was 16, he was asked to try out for the local major junior hockey team in Winnipeg. But he'd also had been attending Notre Dame College, a prestigious hockey prep school in Saskatchewan that has turned out NHLers Curtis Joseph, Rod Brind'Amour, Russ Courtnall and Wendel Clark. Jerrard's mother was insistent he return to Notre Dame for the education, but Jerrard was leaning toward playing junior hockey, traditionally a more direct route to the NHL. As he prepared to head to the rink for training camp, one of his sisters came out to say the head of the school was on the phone. After a lengthy lecture about the importance of his education, a chastened Jerrard collected his equipment from the junior camp and returned to Saskatchewan. "I was just an emotional wreck," Jerrard recalled with a laugh. "It turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made in my life." Such are the moments around which futures are molded, lives changed, paths unearthed. Jerrard went from Notre Dame to Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. There, he met Cheryl. The two began dating and now have two daughters, ages 13 and 9. As was the case in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, Jerrard was among the only black people in the community, let alone the team. "I was the first black player to play there," he said.
|Iowa goalie right at home|
Iowa Stars center Yared Hagos enjoys an unusual place on the diversity curve. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Hagos' parents were born in Ethiopia and moved to the hockey-mad Nordic country about 30 years ago. Hagos, who is black, played soccer in the summer and hockey in the winter because that's what everyone else did.
"I found out I was a whole lot better in hockey than I was in soccer," he told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "Obviously, I stood out a little bit." Most of the other kids were white, "and I was big and black."
Still, he said he has rarely encountered a negative word or action in his hockey years, even after coming to North America as the 70th pick by Dallas in the 2001 draft.
"I've always been treated fairly," he said. "I've been fortunate to have good people around me."
Hagos, 23, has been in Iowa the past two years and was a little surprised to find the team had a black assistant coach, Paul Jerrard.
"I didn't think, 'Oh, more ice time for me,'" Hagos said with a laugh. Still, he thinks Jerrard has a great future. "I don't doubt he's got the abilities to do it," Hagos said. "He could probably be a great head coach."
Hagos said he misses home; his mother Terry runs a Thai restaurant and father Tirfu educates seniors. "Home is always home," he said, "but I feel I've got a new home here."
-- Scott Burnside
Throughout minor pro hockey, there is the dynamic of wanting to move up, move out. To get better as a coach, that means working together even if both coaches have a similar drive to move on."I don't think it's hard at all," Allison said. "If you're going to talk the talk [about teamwork], then you'd better walk the walk. [Working with Jerrard] has helped my growth. I love this job. What happens at the end of the day, happens at the end of the day. I think Paul feels the same way. I know he feels the same way. "Paul Jerrard is a very decent man. This is a hard job. It's a lot like a marriage. You have to fight not to lash out when things go bad." Allison is hardly in a position to recommend Jerrard for head coaching jobs, but he is confident his friend's successes will have nothing to do with the color of his skin. "I think he will find his way. But I don't think color is going to be an issue if he chooses to do it. Not for one second do I believe that it will be an issue," Allison said. Allison added that Jerrard is a role model, not because he's a black man trying to do what few have done before, but because Jerrard is fundamentally a decent man. "From a societal standpoint, I do think it's important" that people like Jerrard are part of the coaching fraternity, said Graeme Townshend, a former minor-league player and coach who is also black. "It's important for people to know that hockey isn't an exclusively white sport, whether that means players, coaches or GMs," said Townshend, who coached in the CHL and ECHL before his current post as player development co-coordinator for the San Jose Sharks. "The world needs to understand that hockey is all-inclusive. I don't think the world knows this.
"I'm really proud of Paul," Townshend said. "It's very difficult to get to the American Hockey League level. That man works his butt off."
Jerrard is flattered by what top hockey people say about his coaching acumen, and he knows these next few years will be crucial in defining his career arc."I don't want to take too big of a step too early," Jerrard said. He knows if he's not ready and does take a head coaching job, he might not get another shot at it. "Do I want to be a head coach? Yeah. But I want to be a head coach in the right situation."
Jerrard also knows, for some, his next move will have a definite racial subtext.
"Hopefully it's like, 'You can be like him if you try hard enough,'" Jerrard said. "If I can help people, that's what I want to do."When that moment comes, when he takes over his own team, will he feel an extra burden many sports pioneers feel? Jerrard chuckled. "I think I'll feel burdened enough just trying to prove myself as a head coach. "I'm just another coach in the league trying to do the best I can." Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.