This is a tough one to write. A really sad one. Paul Theriault, the smart, ahead of his time, former Ontario Hockey League coach with the Soo Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters as well as the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, passed away recently at the age of 73.
Turk, as he was known to his family and many friends, had been suffering from complications from post concussion syndrome for a long time. He sustained the injury way back when he was playing for the Lake Superior State University Lakers, and it eventually caught up with him in his later years.
I knew Paul from back when we were young kids. And once I became a sports writer and he became a hockey coach, I followed his career rather closely. Over the years, we had a lot of good times. We drank some beers and we shed a few foolish tears and we generally enjoyed each other’s company as casual friends.
I am not going to lie. Paul and I had a few issues with each other over the years. And I am not happy with some of the things that I wrote about Paul when we were at odds. But we eventually made up and I remember telling Paul that I was sorry for some of what I had written about him when he was coaching the Greyhounds for a second time in his truly notable career.
The last time I saw Paul was more than a few years ago. We were both at a Soo Eagles game — after he had retired from coaching and sold his interests in the NOJHL team — and we had a few cold beers at the legendary ‘Bomb Shelter’ bar, which was located across from Pullar Stadium. I could tell that he wasn’t quite as sharp as the very intelligent person that I knew him as. But it was a really good get together and we had more than a few laughs while reminiscing about the old days of his coaching career and some of the characters that were mutual acquaintances.
To me, I always thought of Paul as, when he was on his game, a peerless OHL coach. He was as good a coach as Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67’s and Bert Templeton of the North Bay Centennials and Dick Todd of the Peterborough Petes and Terry Crisp of the Soo Greyhounds and George Burnett of a number of teams. As Kilrea and Templeton and Todd and Crisp and Burnett are OHL coaching legends, so too was Paul.
Besides coaching in the OHL, Paul coached overseas in Germany and Italy. And he also coached the top farm club of the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and was an assistant with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
He may have spent much of his coaching career away from his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and his wife’s hometown of Sault Ste. Marie,. Michigan. But Paul was always a Twin Sault boy, and a proud one at that.
When I think of Paul, it is with good thoughts. One hundred per cent good thoughts. I think of him as a good coach and a fun loving guy with an ever present smile and a hearty laugh. But mostly, I think of Paul as a down to earth, good guy. A good, good guy, actually.
To this day, Theriault remains the longest-serving and winningest coach in the storied history of the Oshawa Generals, spending nine seasons behind their bench from 1979 to 1989, winning two OHL championships while collecting 350 of his 476 career victories as an OHL bench boss. During Paul’s time in Oshawa, the Generals won two OHL championships and went on to the Memorial Cup national championship tournament. All in all, Theriault remains the 10th winningest coach in OHL history with a record 476-368-45.
Damn, this is such a sad story to write. I always thought of Paul as larger than life, a really smart guy who was so into physical fitness. He loved to coach. He loved to have a beer. He loved life.