Jack savouring final university season eight years after a tumour left her hockey career in doubt

Jesse Jack had a benign tumour removed in her spine when she was a teenager, which allowed her to play hockey again (Joel Kingston photo).
Jesse Jack had a benign tumour removed in her spine when she was a teenager, which allowed her to play hockey again (Joel Kingston photo).

Jason Hills
For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Growing up on a farm outside of Stettler, Jesse Jack learned all about farm life.

The early mornings and late nights doing tough chores like milking cows were a regular routine for her and her siblings, but she wouldn't have traded it for the world.

While some kids aren't cut out for life on the farm, it taught Jack so many important lessons, that no doubt helped her become a better hockey player.

"It taught me to always have a strong work ethic and discipline. Farm animals can't take care of themselves, they rely on you, so my sisters and I had a big responsibility to take care of them," said Jack.

"It's certainly helped me throughout my hockey career, because I wasn't always the top player. I've always had to work hard to get where I want to be."

Jack always dreamed of playing hockey at the U SPORTS level and now the 23 year old is in her first year with the MacEwan Griffins, after spending the last several years with Olds College.

The Griffins (1-9) will face the visiting Trinity Western Spartans (5-4) on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m, both Downtown Community Arena, Canada West TV).


It's been a long journey for Jack to reach her biggest goal, and she's not taking anything for granted, because eight years ago, she wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to play hockey again.

"I was out one day on the farm and I was throwing  a bale of hay into the back of the truck, and I felt this really bad pain. I just thought I threw my back out. But the pain just wouldn't go away and it just kept getting worse," recalled Jack.

Over the course of the next year, Jack visited with 14 different doctors and specialists to figure out what was wrong. After a multitude of tests, she found out she had a benign tumour in her spine.

Doctors performed surgery, but the tumour came back, and it actually caused her spine to become crooked, causing her excruciating pain, once again.

Off the ice, she was living in pain; on the ice, the tumour affected her ability to play the game.

Jesse Jack protects the puck from a Saskatchewan player in a game last month (Joel Kingston photo).

"Looking back on it, it was tough, hockey was everything to me," said Jack.

"I was always a fast skater. That was a big part of my game and I couldn't move the way I used to."

Jack chose to undergo another surgery, this time a less invasive surgery, but one that had never been done before in North America.

Surgeons made a small incision and drilled directly into her vertebrae and stuck a needle into the tumour to free and remove it.

"Right away that the pain I had been feeling for the past three years was gone," said Jack.

"I knew it would take me time to get back to the level I wanted my game to be at, but I was ready to work."

That tough farm girl mentality soon kicked in and Jack was back playing hockey again. She was recruited by current Griffins head coach Chris Leeming, when he was the head coach at Olds College and now the two are reunited as members of the Griffins in Jack's final year of eligibility.

"Getting to know Jesse the last five to six years has simply proven to me that she is a great human who is relentless in her pursuit of making an impact on those around her and connecting the people has the opportunity to work with," said Leeming.

"I'm extremely grateful for her work ethic, her attitude and growth mindset, because looking back, she truly was the driving force behind establishing the culture that we did at Olds during our time together. On the ice, she is a relentless competitor and I've seen a growth in her confidence."

"Jesse was one of my very first recruits (in Olds)," continued Leeming. "It's a cool moment to have it come full circle and be able to work together for her final year of eligibility."

Jack admitted that when she first joined Olds College, she wasn't sure if she'd ever get back to the playing level she wanted to, but Leeming worked with her, and eventually her game started to rise.

She'd even become team captain.

Jack may be a rookie on the Griffins this year, but she certainly brings a lot of leadership to a young MacEwan squad.

Jack is tied for second in team scoring with two goals and one assist in 10 games. She scored her first career goal against Manitoba on Oct. 20 and scored again against the Bisons a night later.

And the best part is, she's doing it playing at the top of her game, living out her dream she set out years ago to play at the U SPORTSlevel.

"After everything I've been through, I wanted to take a chance on myself and see if I can compete at this level, and it's been such an amazing experience so far," said Jack.

"Chris is a fantastic coach, and I'm so happy to be back playing for him, and to be able to play for him again in my final year is special."