Windsor, NS, native John Paris Jr. was the first Black coach and general manager in pro hockey. Paris was the first Black person to coach a pro hockey team, when he coached the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League. The following season, he was named coach and general manager of the Central Hockey League expansion franchise Macon Whoopee. He coached the Whoopee for three seasons.
From the introduction to They Called Me Chocolate Rocket: “Although John has an impressive resume, it is the stories of the complex life that he has lived — persevering in a hockey world where blacks were rare — that propel the book. From John being befriended by Rocket Richard as a junior, to being brought back from near-death in a Montreal hospital at age 25, to getting a “street lesson” in Atlanta when caught in a gang fight, and more.”
In 1962-64, he played hockey for Windsor Royals Midgets minor hockey team and was scouted by Scotty Bowman for Junior Canadiens organization. Paris tried out for the Junior Canadiens and found himself on the Montreal Forum ice with the likes of future NHL players Jacques Lemaire, Carol Vadnais, Serge Savard, Andre Lacroix and Christian Bordeleau.
At 17 years old and weighing about 135 pounds, Paris didn’t make the team. Instead, he played the following season in the Metropolitan Montreal Junior Hockey League with the Maisonneuve Braves, and with the Junior A Quebec Aces in 1966. His skating and scoring prowess there earned him the nickname “Chocolate Rocket.” He climbed hockey’s ladder and made it to the minor leagues, playing nine games in 1967-68 for Knoxville in the Eastern Hockey League.
Hodgkin lymphoma and ulcerative colitis effectively ended Paris’ playing career. Once his health improved, he began coaching youth hockey.
During the 1970-71 season, Paris began coaching hockey in the minor leagues, consistently moving up in the ranks. By 1986, his midget team won the Air Canada Cup national championship, and he was named coach of the year. By 1987, he was coaching in the QMJHL and was scouting for the St. Louis Blues of the NHL.
In the 1993-94 season, Paris was hired by the Atlanta Knights of the IHL. His move to professional hockey proved to be a good one when he led the Knights to win the Turner Cup championship. He continued a successful professional coaching career in the IHL and the CHL, posting a winning record five out of six seasons.
Also, a certified sports psychologist, Paris has a special ability to motivate his players as well as a vast hockey knowledge that covers all aspects of the game. Now living in Dallas, Texas with his wife and young daughter, John is actively involved in hockey as a coach and principal instructor for top-level prospects and works in prestigious U.S. junior development camps.
In celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth, we salute one of Windsor’s finest.