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Puck Diplomacy

By Harry Thompson, 02/14/18, 9:45AM MST


USA Hockey Official Finds Herself At The Center

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – For Jessica LeClerc, working the 2018 Olympic Winter Games is a dream come true and the culmination of a lifetime of hard work.

So being here as part of the hand-picked officiating crew for the women’s hockey tournament is amazing in its own right. But to experience not just one but two of the historic games involving the joint Korean team has been beyond her wildest expectations.

“I still pinch myself,” said the Augusta, Maine native. “When I hit the ice for the first time it was an unbelievable feeling. Even now I still can’t believe that I’m here.”

LeClerc’s first Olympic assignment came on the first night of the women’s competition when she worked as a linesman for the Korean team’s game against Switzerland. Fellow American Dina Allen also worked the game as a referee. 

“For me, it was my first Olympic game as well so it made it even more special,” saidLeClerc, who is one of four American women and the only linesman to serve as an on-ice official during the tournament.

“After the game ended the Korean fans were still cheering and we were able to take a sneak peak, and you say to yourself, ‘Holy smokes, that just happened.’ To be a part of it is an absolutely humbling experience.”

LeClerc also worked the lines during the Canada vs. Finland game and again for today’s Korea game against their Asian rival Japan.

The outcome of the game was of minor importance when played against the backdrop of its political significance. The sight of Korean hockey fans from both sides of the 38th Parallel cheering on the joint team went well beyond the scoreboard. The Korean fans cheered wildly every time their team touched the puck, and absolutely lost their collective minds if a Korean puck carrier crossed the blueline and into the attacking zone.

“It’s loud so you have to watch your partners out there. Especially when the puck is near the Korean attacking zone, you have to watch the referee down there because you can’t hear the whistle. You can’t hear any of that,” LeClerc said. 

“We feed off that energy. It’s a positive energy. We may not understand what they are saying but there’s an energy in the building and we build off that as well. It’s more fun to be a part of a positive atmosphere with a crowd that’s in the game.”

She’s come a long way from her first officiating assignment that she used to help work her way through school. A former player at the University of Maine and Utica College in New York, LeClerc has worked her way up the ranks of the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program.

In addition to her experience in international hockey, which includes the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, Mich., LeClerc also serves as the Referee-In-Chief for the Maine Amateur Hockey Association. She still finds time to officiate 15 to 20 games a month, from the NCAA Division III level — men and women — to the North American Hockey League, high school and women’s professional hockey.

All the work she’s put into her craft finally paid off when she received the call that she was joining a select few to work at the highest level of women’s hockey.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity and I feel so fortunate,” she said. “Yes, I did put in all this hard work and all this time and commitment, but a lot of other girls did and they didn’t get the opportunity. It just makes it really special and I’m honored that I was chosen to be here.”

With game schedules announced every day, LeClerc has no idea how many more chances she’ll have to step on the Olympic ice. But if her work here is done, she already has enough memories to last a lifetime. 

“I’d be so thankful to work another game but if not you support your teammates out there,” she said. “We’re all here for the betterment of the game and we have such a great group of officials that it’s amazing to be here with them.

“And it’s amazing to be out there and to be a part of history.”

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