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Remembering Coach Jim Clare

By Ross Forman, 10/18/23, 9:00PM CDT


Jim Clare, who spent more than 25 years tirelessly promoting youth hockey in Illinois and across the nation – as a coach, association president, member of the AHAI board of directors and leadership roles for USA Hockey – passed away Saturday, September 23, after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.

Clare, who lived in Bolingbrook, was the chairperson of the Coaching Committee for AHAI, a post he held for many years.

“Jim had a hand in almost every aspect of AHAI,” said AHAI executive director John Dunne. “Jim was a good coach, administrator and leader. People were never afraid to talk to Jim. He was open and a good listener. While Jim might not have been feeling very well, he never let that stop him from doing what he loved. The hockey community lost a great volunteer and he will be missed. His presence will always be felt.”

Former AHAI and USA Hockey president Jim Smith added: “Volunteering is like a hockey game, where every player makes a difference in the team’s success. Jim Clare was the consummate volunteer. He would always help wherever needed, and not just on the events and committees he oversaw. Jim was what we call in hockey, ‘a complete team player.’

“In memory of Jim, may his legacy continue to inspire us to always give our best shot and make a positive impact on those we serve both on and off the ice.”

Clare started in Illinois hockey in the late-1990s and was long tied to the Sabres’ organization. He coached countless teams over the years and was a member of the Sabres’ board of directors from 2003 to 2016, including a 10-year stint at the club’s president. He was the girls’ 19U coach for the Sabres for five years.

Clare joined the AHAI board of directors in 2010 and was the vice president of membership, plus a member of the A Step Ahead concussion committee and the suspension/review committee, among others.

Nationally, he was a USA Hockey CEP instructor for about 10 years

“Jim led by example; he led by serving the needs of others,” said Chuck Smith of the AHAI board of directors. “He got strength and satisfaction from helping others, helping others succeed or solve problems. He never complained, even while facing health issues.”

In fact, Smith and others noted that they always remember Clare asking how others were doing – and was truly interested.

“Jim was a dear friend,” Smith said. “He truly cared about all the kids in Illinois hockey and across the country. He never had an agenda that was about Jim Clare. His agenda was always about helping, never a personal agenda.”

And he never was narrow-minded. “He was as concerned and focused on a Northwest House League team as a Central States (Development Hockey) League team. The squirt Northwest House League team got as much focus as a bantam Central States team,” Smith said.

Smith said Clare shined brightest a couple of years ago when Smith had a family health issue. Clare showed up at the hospital at 2 a.m., unannounced, and sat with Smith for several hours. “It was like he appeared out of nowhere and I’ve never forgotten that,” Smith said.

“Jim will be incredibly missed. It’s a horrible loss for Illinois hockey and hockey across America.”

Included Boston, where he also left a legacy. And yes, he was a diehard Bruins fan – and Charlie Coyle, a center who broke into the NHL in 2012, was a favorite.

Clare played high school hockey in his native Boston area, then went on to play NCAA Division 1 hockey at The United States Military Academy, West Point graduating in 1987. He spent seven years active duty, retiring as a captain in the Army in 1994.

“Jim had a presence at all local and national events. Whether it was a local girls, youth or high school game, Jim was standing behind the glass talking to parents and other coaches,” Dunne said. “Jim also had a perseverance for issues he believed in. If Jim thought something was the right thing to do, he pursued that issue or challenge until there was an outcome.”

Dunne fondly recalls that the AHAI coaching clinics staff attended a USA Hockey coaching program training session in Denver. “Jim was very sick, but refused to miss this educational event,” Dunne said. “Jim managed his energy and made every meeting. The group had dinner one night and his son Ryan was able to meet us for that dinner. Seeing Jim with his son and being surrounded by other coaches interested in the same thing as Jim, had Jim smiling and enjoying the moment.”

Clare is survived by his mother (Lillian), his wife (Cheryl Bersani), and his sons Ryan (Denise), Kevin and Kyle – all of whom were coached by their dad.

“Jim was asked to join the Sabres’ Board to assist with a transition and restructuring. With Jim’s military background, he excelled with the planning and execution. Jim rose to the position of president and led the Sabes for many seasons,” Dunne said. “After stepping down as president, Jim continued to stay involved coaching the Sabres’ girls’ teams and his teams made repeated trips to the USA Hockey National Championships.”

Dan Jablonic of the AHAI Coaching Committee said Clare’s passion for hockey spread vast and wide, at all levels, especially with his infectious personality.

“Every time he got in front of a coaching clinic, he impacted a lot of coaches,” Jablonic said. “One of the phrases I think about now that (Clare often said) was, ‘How you coach matters and how you do it matters even more.’

“Jim always put the kids first. Every decision made was done with the kids first. He made time, even when he didn’t have time, to make sure he was lending a helping hand.

“He faced cancer with humility and courage; he didn’t let cancer get the best of him. His spirit lives on by the character of who he was.

“For years (to come), people will be saying, ‘Yeah, I was fortunate to have had a clinic with Coach Clare.’ That impact will last a long, long time.”

Jablonic said Clare raised the bar for hockey coaches across America. “Our game is in a much better place because we had Jimmy Clare. He did what he did because he loved the game and loved being around kids.

“He is the gold standard when it comes to USA Hockey volunteers and we all lost a really good friend, a really big part of USA Hockey who people had a lot of respect for. His impact isn’t just (felt) in Illinois, it’s across USA Hockey.”

Jack Raslawski said Clare was “extremely helpful” with AHAI’s Special Hockey program, organizing coaching clinics specifically for the disabled section. “His passion and commitment to our game will be missed,” Raslawski said.

Anita Lichterman, AHAI Girls Chair, noted that Clare “really helped grow the Sabres’ girls’ program,” and that he was “very, very supportive of girls hockey, top to bottom.”

“It takes a very special person to be so supportive of girls’ hockey. He understood the dynamics and roadblocks,” of advancing girls’ hockey, she said. “He was a great advocate for girls’ hockey, always.”

Clare served on almost all AHAI committees over the years, including Try Hockey For Free and others. Plus, he spearheaded the AHAI annual membership meeting.

“Jim’s greatest impact was in the USA Hockey coaching education program,” Dunne said. “Jim ran every in-person coaches’ clinics in Illinois for four years until the pandemic season. Then, he personally led 75 percent of the online coaching seminars for USA Hockey and continued to do so until this season.

“It would not be a stretch to say Jim had a hand in teaching over 10,000 coaches over the years.”