It has been a long hockey road for Jared Hester of Waskaganish, one that has now taken him all the way to Wisconsin, where he is enjoying a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey career as a defenceman with the Northland College Lumberjacks.
Hockey has been a part of the 22-year-old’s life since he was a boy. Hester first left home a decade ago to play hockey with the Cree Nation Bears, before making the move to Timmins, Ontario, for a season of AAA Midget hockey. He then made the leap to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL), where he spent three years patrolling the blue line for the Timmins Rock.
Indeed, it was with the Rock that Hester made his hockey breakthrough, cracking the top 10 in scoring among defenceman in the NOJHL during the 2016-17 season with 10 goals and 19 assists in 52 games.
Hester continued to improve his game after arriving at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, last season. While he not racking up the offensive numbers he did in Timmins, he has developed into an all-round big-minute defenceman that the Lumberjacks lean on in all situations, including the power play and penalty.
“I like being on the ice,” Hester told the Nation from his home in Waskaganish. “It was a big change adjusting to playing college hockey, playing against men as opposed to teenagers. That means I had to get stronger and learn to play a smarter game.”
While Hester still has two years of NCAA eligibility, he hasn’t wasted his time in the classroom as he works toward a degree in business administration.
“I would like to continue playing hockey at a high level when I finish college,” Hester explained. “Hopefully I can play pro at some level. But ultimately, I want to come back home and put my education to good use here in the community, helping people to build in my hometown.”
The source of Hester’s commitment to community and family is close at hand. His parents, George P. Hester and Janie Wesley-Hester, have always played an important role in his hockey and educational dreams. They remain his biggest fans.
“Jared’s mom and I have always tried to support Jared when it comes to hockey,” said George Hester. “Even when he lived in another town, we always made the drive to see him play and spend as much time with him as we could.”
These days, it takes them two days to across drive provincial, state and international borders to see their boy play.
“It’s a long way to go to see him. Unfortunately, we don’t get the chance to do it as much as we like,” George lamented.
But the 1800-kilometre drive proved to be no obstacle when Jared needed his family most. Like so many other colleges and universities across North America, Northland College chose to close its doors as the COVID-19 outbreak widened in mid-March. With just five days notice, Jared was forced to vacate his living space at the school and race home before the border between Canada and the United States closed.
George wasted no time driving to Wisconsin to ensure his son returned home safe. While the decision meant that both father and son would have to endure lengthy self-isolation upon their return, what mattered most was getting Jared home safe and sound.
“It was a little bit scary with everything going on, and then having just five days to pack up and leave,” Jared recounted. “Fortunately, the hockey season was already over, and I was happy to see my parents.”
The journey had already been in the planning, George noted. “But it is good to have our son home with us. And now that we are out of isolation, I look forward to spending some time in the bush.”