Loss of Omaha assistant Paul Jerrard hits home for UND coach Brad Berry
Berry and Jerrard met at Minnesota North Stars training camp in 1991 and became close friends.
GRAND FORKS — Brad Berry attended his first Minnesota North Stars training camp in 1991.
That's when he met a veteran defenseman from the organization who took Berry under his wing.
It was Paul Jerrard.
"He was one guy who really took me in and welcomed me to the organization," Berry said. "Him and his family, his wife Cheryl, were outstanding."
That started a lifelong friendship between the two, who both later entered the coaching profession and remained close friends throughout all of their stops.
Jerrard, an assistant coach at Omaha, died last week at the age of 57 after a long battle with cancer.
"He was one of my closest friends through the game of hockey," Berry said. "He'll always be in my memories."
A lot of those memories date back to Kalamazoo, Mich., in the early 1990s, where they were teammates on Minnesota's minor league affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings, for parts of three seasons.
Berry and Jerrard lived in the same apartment complex and carpooled to practices and games.
"We would drive to the rink every day together, come back home together," Berry said. "We built a special, strong relationship, for sure. Once his career finished, he went on to coaching in the American League. I went back to North Dakota. We've changed different places, but we always remained true to each other as far as calling each other every couple weeks to see how we're doing."
On one of those phone calls in the summer of 2018, Jerrard informed Berry he was leaving the Calgary Flames organization.
Berry floated the idea of returning to college, where Jerrard once served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Lake Superior State.
"That's when the Omaha job opened up," Berry said. "He got the job and then we're coaching against each other again."
Berry and Jerrard frequently ran into each other in the coaching world.
They coached against each other in the AHL — Berry with the Manitoba Moose, Jerrard with the Iowa Stars. They coached against each other in the NHL — Berry with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jerrard with the Dallas Stars.
In recent years, whenever Jerrard made the trip back home to Winnipeg, he'd call Berry when he drove through Grand Forks. They'd meet for coffee or dinner.
"That tells you what a friend is," Berry said. "He absolutely cares about people. He's genuine. He's a guy who always speaks the truth. There's not a lot of fluff. He'll just tell you what he feels. At the end of the day, people can read people as far as who cares about each other. And Paul cares."
Berry planned to attend Jerrard's funeral Wednesday in Omaha but his flight was canceled, so he watched the services online.
"Everybody expects to live to a long age," Berry said. "He was 57 years old. Through good times and bad times, you have to enjoy your life, because you never know when it's going to be taken. At the end of the day, I think he maximized his time. He was a really good family man. He spent lots of time with his two daughters (Catherine and Meaghan) and his wife, Cheryl. I think he maximized his time while on earth."