Inside Hockey: Black Coaches and The NHL
by Bob Dawson,
Boxscore: OTTAWA, Canada – March 8, 2018 – On January 18th of this year, Willie O’Ree celebrated his 60th anniversary since he broke the NHL’s color barrier with the Boston Bruins in a hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens on January 18, 1958. Since that historic event, some 87 blacks have played in the NHL. They have been impact players at every position on the ice as goal scorers, rugged cornermen, smooth skating playmakers, goal stoppers, tough defensemen and even enforcers.
Unlike members of other groups, however, the progress of blacks in the NHL’s coaching ranks has been slow. As seen in the following, only 9 blacks to date have served as coaches with NHL teams in various capacities such as head coach, assistant coach, goaltending coach, player development coach, video coach, as well as skating coach.
Interestingly, the primary area of coaching for blacks has been in the goal crease, that is goaltending. Only 2 blacks to date have served on the bench as assistant coaches (Paul Jerrard, Dirk Graham) with just one as a head coach (Dirk Graham).
Of the 9 black coaches, 3 or 33.3% have coached on more than one team (Paul Jerrard, Eli Wilson, Grant Fuhr). However, only 5 of the 9 individuals are currently coaching in the NHL (Fred Brathwaite, Francis Bouillon, Paul Jerrard, Frantz Jean, Nigel Kirwan). It’s interesting to note that 2 of the 5 black coaches are with the Tampa Bay Lightning (Frantz Jean, Nigel Kirwan).
Fred Brathwaite (Ottawa, Ontario): Brathwaite is the latest black to join the NHL coaching ranks. On July 10, 2017, the New York Islanders hired him as their head goaltending coach under head coach Doug Weight.
Prior to joining the Islanders, Brathwaite has worked as the goaltending coach for Hockey Canada with their Under-18 team for the last three seasons. Before that, he held the same role with Canada’s Under-20 team, as well as with his former club Adler Mannheim of the German Professional League (DEL) during the 2013-14 season.
During nine NHL seasons as a player, Brathwaite played in 254 games and posted an 81-99-37 record with a cumulative 2.73 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. Brathwaite came into the league with the Edmonton Oilers and went on to play games with the Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also spent time with the Syracuse Crunch and Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL), Ak Bars Kazan and Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague (now the Kontenential Hockey League) and Adler Mannheim of the DEL. Brathwaite won Goaltender of the Year Honors in the RSL in 2005-06 and won Player of the Year in 2008-09 in the DEL with Adler.
Before turning professional, Brathwaite won a Memorial Cup in 1990 with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League.
Francis Bouillon (Born in New York and raised in Quebec City): Bouillon, who had retired after 14 seasons in the NHL, was named player development coach on July 5, 2017 in the reorganization of the Montreal Canadiens. The former defenseman played for the Canadiens from 1999 to 2009 and again from 2012 to 2014 after a 3-year stint (2009 – 2012) with the Nashville Predators. Bouillon had 32 goals, 117 assists for 149 points in 776 NHL games.
Passed over in the NHL draft, Bouillon played a year with Wheeling in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and another with the defunct Quebec Rafales in the International Hockey League (IHL) before signing with Montreal in 1998. Prior to jumping to the NHL in 1999-2000, he played a year with Montreal’s farm team the Fredericton Canadiens of the AHL.
After the 2008-2009 season, Bouillon was not resigned by the Canadiens. Instead, he inked a contract with the Nashville Predators where he spent the next 3 years. He returned to the Canadiens for 2 seasons in 2012. Left unsigned after the 2013-2014 campaign, Bouillon played one last season for Ambri-Piotti in the Swiss league.
During his time with the Canadiens, Bouillon won the Jacques Beauchamp Molson Trophy in 2003-04 as the Canadiens’ unsung hero and took the Jean Beliveau Award in 2006-07 for his work in the community.
Paul Jerrard (Winnipeg, Manitoba): On July 6, 2016, Jerrard, a former NHL defenseman with the Minnesota North Stars, was hired by the Calgary Flames as an assistant coach with the task of developing the Flames’ defense corps and improving their penalty kill. He joined Calgary after serving as an assistant coach with the Utica Comets of the AHL, an affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Prior to his time in Utica, Jerrard was an assistant coach for the Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan with the Dallas Stars (2011-2013) and their AHL affiliate in Texas (2009-2011). He also served one other season as an NHL assistant coach with the 2002-2003 Colorado Avalanche.
Jerrard had worked as an assistant coach in the AHL with Lowell Lock Monsters (1998-1999), Hershey Bears (2003-2005), and Iowa Stars (2005-2009). Before coaching at the professional level, he served as an assistant coach at his alma mater Lake Superior State University in 1997-1998 and then from 1999 to 2002.
On graduating from Lake Superior State University, Jerrard was drafted by the New York Rangers and then traded to the Minnesota North Stars where he played 5 games during the 1988-1989 season. After his brief stint in the NHL, he would remain in the minors, ending his hockey career with the AHL’s Hershey Bear’s in 1997.
Frantz Jean (Montreal, Quebec): The Tampa Bay Lightning named Jean as their goaltending coach on September 7, 2010. Entering his 8th season, he works with all goaltenders in the hockey organization. Jean has been involved in coaching for more then 25 years.
During his tenure with the Lightning, Jean has helped guide the organization’s goaltenders to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, 2014 NHL Conference Quarterfinal, 2013 Calder Cup Final (AHL), 2012 Calder and Kelly Cup (ECHL) Championships as well as the 2011 NHL Eastern Conference Final. Under Jean’s tutelage Ben Bishop has blossomed into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.
Prior to joining Tampa Bay, Jean spent 12 years with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During his time with the Wildcats, the team won two league championships (2005-06, 2009-10) and allowed the least number of goals in a season on four occasions. Jean was also a member of the coaching staff on the 2009 and 2010 Hockey Canada Under 18 teams that captured the gold medals at the Ivan Helinka International Tournament.
Nigel Kirwan (Winnipeg, Manitoba): Kirwan has been with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization since its inaugural season in 1992 as a member of the front office staff. However, Terry Crisp, the head coach at the time, made Kirwan the team’s video coach, a position he has held since the 1996-1997 season which probably makes him perhaps the longest serving black coach in the NHL.
Kirwan serves as a set of eyes for the Lightning’s coaching staff and players. He breakdowns pre-scouting and game films, generates scouting reports on opposing clubs and creates highlight films for use by the coaches and players.
Additionally, Kirwan has previously coached Lightning prospects during team rookie and development camps. He has also served as the video coach for Team USA at the 2009 and 2008 World Championships in Switzerland and Canada, respectively.
Eli Wilson (Maple Ridge, British Columbia): Wilson was named goaltending coach for the Ottawa Senators on August 15, 2007. He was responsible for Ottawa’s goaltenders as well as those playing for their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators.
Prior to becoming a NHL coach, Wilson enjoyed great success from 2003 to 2007 as the goaltending coach with the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers. While there, his goaltenders set new franchise records only to break them again 2 years later. During his tenure, the Tigers won 2 league championships and in both instances the Medicine Hat goaltenders were named playoff MVPs.
Following Wilson’s release from the Senators, he founded Eli Wilson Goaltending and established himself as one of the world leaders in goaltending development. In 2011, he was hired by the Anaheim Ducks to work as their goaltending consultant for their affiliate the Syracuse Crunch. Three years later, he was hired as the goaltending coach with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Graeme Townshend (Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Toronto, Ontario): On September 9, 2008, the Toronto Maple Leafs appointed Townshend, a former NHL player from 1990 to 1994, as the team’s skating coach. While there, he designed skating and skills development progressions for all Maple Leafs players and prospects. He also pre-scouted and evaluated all prospective draft picks and attended interviews at the annual NHL pre-draft combine. Townshend held the position until the end of the 2012 season.
Prior to the job with the Maple Leafs, Townshend spent four seasons with the San Jose Sharks as the team’s skating coach under head coach Ron Wilson. Before that, he was head coach with the Greensboro Generals (2001-2002) of the ECHL and Macon Whoopee (1999-2001) of the Central Hockey League (CHL).
Shortly after playing U.S. college hockey at RPI, Townshend began his professional career that lasted 10 seasons. His NHL career lasted 4 years (1990 – 1994) with stops in Boston, New York and Ottawa. The balance of his playing career was split between the AHL and the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL).
Grant Fuhr (Spruce Grove, Alberta): Three years after his retirement a hockey legend, Fuhr was hired to be the Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach on July 22, 2004. He held the position until the end of the 2008-2009 season, when replaced by Sean Burke. Fuhr held a similar post with the Calgary Flames in the 2000–2001 and 2001–2002 seasons.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, Fuhr played 19 seasons in the NHL from 1981-2000 with 6 different teams (Edmonton, Toronto, Buffalo, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Calgary). During his time in Edmonton, he earned 5 Stanley Cups and played in 6 NHL All-Star Games. In addition, Fuhr won the Vezina Trophy in 1988 as the NHL’s top goaltender.
Over the course of his illustrious NHL career, Fuhr compiled a record of 403 wins, 295 losses and 114 ties and 25 shutouts as well as a 3.38 goals against average.
He’s tied for 6th on the all-time wins list with 403. Fuhr also ranks 6th on the all-time games played list with 868.
Dirk Graham (Regina, Saskatchewan): After retiring from the Chicago Blackhawks, Graham went on to become the team’s assistant coach under Craig Hartsburg in 1995-1996. Graham took a year off and then returned to the Blackhawks as a scout.
In 1998-1999, Graham was named head coach of the Blackhawks, making him the first black coach in NHL history. He would only last 59 games as the team’s head coach. He is currently a scout for the San Jose Sharks.
While playing with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1987 to 1995, Graham scored 20 goals or more 4 times. During the 1988-1989 season, he was named team captain, the first black player to wear the “C” in the NHL. In 1990-1991, he won the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward in the league.
Before being traded to the Blackhawks in 1988, Graham played with the Minnesota North Stars (1984-1987). And prior to joining the NHL, he toiled in the AHL (Springfield Indians), CHL (Salt Lake City Eagles, Dallas Blackhawks) and IHL (Toledo Goaldiggers, Fort Wayne Komets).
NHL’s Missed Opportunity
Looking back, teams in the NHL missed the opportunity to hire the services of Windsor, Nova Scotia native John Paris, Jr., a black hockey trailblazer, as an assistant or head coach. For this writer, it would have further enhanced the NHL’s profile as an inclusive professional sports organization. Moreover, it, perhaps, would have inspired more blacks to pursue coaching careers in the NHL.
Paris, Jr., during 1993-1994, was named assistant coach and then head coach of the Atlanta Knights of the IHL, making him the first black to enter professional hockey’s coaching ranks. The Knights, an affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, went on to win the league’s Turner Cup Championship. In an effort to resurrect hockey in Macon, Georgia, Paris, Jr. was hired in 1996 by the expansion Macon Whoopee of the CHL to be their first head coach and general manager. On the latter, he again made history by becoming the first black GM in professional hockey. In spite of the adversity and challenges of being black in the south, he held the dual role with the Whoopee until 1999.
Ironically, Paris, Jr. coached players in the IHL and CHL like Gerard Gallant, Brad Shaw, and Scott Gordon who eventually went on to coach in the NHL. Moreover, during the years in the minor-pro leagues, he coached with Gene Ubriaco as well as against the likes of Ken Hitchcock, Terry Murray, Bruce Boudreau and Dave Farrish. These men also moved on to assistant and head coaching jobs in the NHL.
Prior to focusing his attention on coaching at the professional level, Paris, Jr. held coaching and management positions for many years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Sorel Black Hawks (assistant coach/assistant GM, 1981-1986), Trois Rivieres Draveurs (head coach/GM, 1987), Granby Bisons (head coach/GM, 1989-1992), and St. Jean Lynx (head coach, 1992).
Despite his experience, talent for coaching and developing players for the NHL, Paris, Jr. was denied the opportunity to coach at the NHL level. Sadly, he didn’t realize his dream and it was the NHL’s loss.
Currently, there are 31 teams in the NHL with 24 in the U.S. and 7 in Canada. Each year there are openings as a result of coaches who quit or were fired.
In time, hopefully, we’ll have more blacks in coaching positions, especially behind the bench in the NHL as assistant and head coaches. This, however, will only occur through their open and fair access to opportunities to acquire the skills and experience necessary to move up the coaching ladder to the NHL.
About the writer
Bob Dawson is a former hockey player, diversity management consultant and a senior writer for the Boxscore World Sportswire. For additional information, you can visit his website at http://thebobdawsonway.weebly.com.
Source: Boxscore World Sportswire