Former Niagara University Assistant Coach and University at Buffalo Alumni Jerry Forton is back in Western New York, this time as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres.
After a two-year stint as an assistant coach for Harvard and two years with UMass Lowell, the Buffalo native is happy to be back home.
“I have so much family and friends from here and my wife’s from here,” Forton said. “It’s pretty special. The opportunity to coach in the NHL is unbelievable, but to be able to do it in your hometown makes it that much more special.”
Forton, a 17- year collegiate coaching veteran, began his coaching career with Niagara University as a volunteer assistant coach for the Purple Eagles, before joining the staff full time after two seasons.
During his time with the Purple Eagles, Forton helped the team move from an independent Division-III team in 1996-97, to a Division-I Conference Champion in 2000. Forton was also part of three conference regular-season championship teams and three conference tournament teams, along with two NCAA tournament bids in 2004 and 2008.
After Forton’s 13-year tenure as assistant at Niagara ended, he joined the coaching staff at UMass Lowell for two years, where he helped guide the River Hawks to a successful 19-16-4 season and a No. 3 ranking in the national polls.
In 2011, Forton accepted another coaching position as an assistant with Harvard. The Crimson went on to a successful 2011-12 campaign. They ended the season ranked 18th in the nation and made a trip to the conference championship game.
After a successful climb through the college ranks, Forton joined Buffalo’s coaching staff in August. The transition from college to the NHL has come natural according to Forton.
“It’s the same game and it’s the same model in terms of responsibilities among the coaching staff and interaction with the coaching staff,” he said. “That’s the one part of the job that hasn’t changed too much.”
Despite his long involvement in the hockey world, Forton has a diverse background. In college, he was a two-sport athlete, playing both hockey and soccer. Forton was a standout goalkeeper in soccer, gaining numerous awards including Tournament MVP and a first team selection the National Soccer Coaches Association his junior and senior seasons. Before he started coaching hockey at Niagara, Forton spent six years as the head coach of the University at Buffalo men’s soccer team.
If that wasn’t enough, Forton earned his law degree and opened his own practice in the Buffalo area. His busy schedule and diverse background is something Forton says that helped him in his coaching career.
“In this business you have to be a quick study and be learning all the time,” he said. “Everything I’ve been involved with in the past forced me to learn on my feet and it is no different here.”
Forton has a wife and two daughters and as he becomes accustomed to a hectic schedule as an NHL assistant coach, he’s found that he has little time to pursue the interests he did when he was younger.
“Right now I don’t have a lot of time for much besides coaching and family,” Forton said. “Any time you get free time is precious and you try to spend it with your kids.”