At the tender age of 12, Leclerc was already garbed in the referee’s stripes, earning $10 a game as a youth hockey official. Following in the footsteps of her father, Alain, also a long-time official, Jess has carved her own remarkable legacy. Raised in Augusta, Maine, she reached a revered pinnacle, part of a group of 19 women (including four Americans) serving as officials at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
As the 2018 Games composed a new and historic chapter in the legacy of female hockey, from a shootout deciding a gold medal, an exhilarating first, to the Unified Korean team enjoying their Olympic debut, Leclerc enjoyed the opportunity to participate in two of Korea’s contests, including their historic first appearance. In addition, she was also part of the officiating crew when Randi Griffin scored Korea’s first-ever Olympic goal, achieving the feat versus Japan’s Akane Konishi in a 4-1 loss.
Wrapping up her duties with the bronze medal game between Finland and the Olympic Athletes of Russia, part of a crew that included fellow American Dina Allen, plus Canadian officials Justine Todd and Gabrielle Ariano-Lortie. With a lifetime of memories were made during an absolutely career-defining experience, reflections on this fascinating time are a constant source of satisfaction and attainment,
“The Olympics were incredible. It certainly was an experience that I will never forget. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work some very historic and memorable games (such as) the first Unified Korean game, their game against Japan when they scored their 1st goal, and the Bronze medal game. From the opening ceremonies to watching the incredible gold medal game between USA and Canada, it was an experience that has had lasting impressions on me.”
Officiating ran parallel to Leclerc’s solid playing career, as some weekends would include a balance of both. Whether it was mornings in the role of referee, following by an evening match with her club team, her playing resume includes Deerfield Academy, one season in the powder blue of the University of Maine Black Bears, where she studied Kinesiology and Physical Education. Followed by competition with Utica College, Leclerc enjoyed two seasons (2007-09) as team captain, where she specialized in their Therapeutic Recreation program. In three seasons spent as a member of the Pioneers, playing for head coach Dave Clausen, Leclerc also earned All-Conference honors thrice.
Amassing a respectable 36 points while never missing a game, enjoying 79 appearances, Leclerc was also a two-sport star, playing for the varsity lacrosse team. As her career milestones have involved a degree of commendable coverage on the part of the college, the Utica connection remains a highly strong point of pride,
“The best part about playing at Utica, other than my teammates and coaches, was that I was able to be a student, an athlete (I also played lax), and a college student. I was able to continue to officiate through college as well.
Utica helped me to balance all of my passions. It meant a lot for them to continue to follow my officiating career. Officiating is not something that is directly linked to my Utica experience and so it was nice for them to acknowledge the success of an alumni in an area not linked to a degree.”
Obtaining her international license as a linesman, Leclerc gained the opportunity to officiate the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships in Buffalo, signifying an incredible leap forward in her career evolution. Among the most notable games she worked at the event involved the fifth place game between Finland and Sweden, joined by Canadian Jennifer McMahon and British official Deana Cuglietta as Anni Keisala recorded 12 saves in a 3-0 shutout win for the Finns.
Currently, Leclerc’s remarkable schedule can involve working in 15-20 games during an average month, taking to the ice in both Maine and Massachusetts. While her slate of games covers a wide breadth, including high school and NCAA Division III competition, including working at men’s games, the fact that she has also been adding lustre to her growing legacy, along with female professional hockey.
The linkage to professional hockey is one that even saw Leclerc cross over into the realm of the NHL. With a series of milestones over the last two years involving all-female officiating crews at the 2019 NCAA Frozen Four and at an event part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend festivities, one of the most fascinating elements of Leclerc’s officiating jersey involved attending the 2019 NHL officiating combine at Buffalo’s Harbor Center. “The NHL combine was a great experience. It gave us an opportunity of not only where we stood amongst some very talented officials but also showed that gender really did not matter. The experience helped to show that women could compete amongst the men and it was a matter of the job done on the ice.”
With standing as the State Referee in Chief for the state of Maine, Leclerc is also a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, its induction taking place at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. As many young women and former players now view officiating as a viable option after hanging up their skates, such individuals have a great role model in Leclerc, who truly merits the well-earned title of role model,
“Yes, I absolutely see myself as a role model. Being a role model has been one of the most gratifying parts of my officiating career. My advice is to continue to work hard to follow any dream you have despite the mountains you have to climb. Do not ever let gender be a reason why you cannot do something.”
Feature image: obtained from Facebook