Thompson returns to Griffins with new perspective after dabbling in coaching during year off

MacEwan Griffins defenceman Jenna Thompson keeps SAIT's Brittany MacDonald in check in front of goalie Sandy Heim during an ACAC game last month (Matthew Jacula photo).
MacEwan Griffins defenceman Jenna Thompson keeps SAIT's Brittany MacDonald in check in front of goalie Sandy Heim during an ACAC game last month (Matthew Jacula photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Celebrating a championship in March 2017 and finishing a Police & Investigations diploma at MacEwan that spring, Jenna Thompson put the wraps on her hockey career and returned to her hometown of Winnipeg, ready to begin the next phase of her life.

Or so she thought.

Missing the game she loves so much, she decided to return to the Griffins after a year off.

Now, with eight games under her belt in the 2018-19 season, the defensive defenceman will lead MacEwan into a first-place showdown against cross-town rival NAIT on Friday (7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).

"Just watching all the games online … and watching how much fun they had playing hockey, I was like 'I've got to go back.' " said Thompson, who decided to play out her final two years of eligibility with the Griffins while applying previous studies towards a degree in Criminology. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This is the highest level of hockey I'm ever going to play, so if I can keep playing, I might as well."

So, Thompson called head coach Lindsay McAlpine and, even though she'd already logged 60 career games for the Griffins over three Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference seasons, she just simply asked for an open tryout.

"Very realistically, she said 'Lindsay, I know you have a strong team, you have a strong D core, I'd like to fight for my spot back. I know it's an open tryout for me – I'm not asking you to guarantee me anything, but I would like to come and prove myself,' " explained McAlpine.

"That's exactly what she did."

Further showing her humility, Thompson is shy about talking about own game.

"I think that actually speaks to Jenna's character," said the head coach. "She's a very modest individual in all facets of her life.

"I think the biggest contribution Jenna has is her attitude. That doesn't really speak necessarily to her on-ice skill, which is obviously a huge factor – she's been in our top-six D consistently this year. But Jenna's absolutely a team-first girl and I think that also speaks to the reason she returned.

"She returned with a very different attitude in terms of her fitness and the things she needed to improve in the years that she was with us prior. She left, took a year off, worked on herself and I think came back significantly different."

That transformation of gaining more maturity and more perspective after spending last season as an assistant coach with a Winnipeg Peewee AA team.

"It was so much fun. I learned a lot about hockey, just understanding things from a coach's point of view," said Thompson.

"Just trying to stay positive as much as I can," she added of her greatest lesson being on the other side of the bench. "We have so many girls on this team who are so skilled. So, trying to stay in the lineup … you're not going to play every shift.

"In coaching you see the other end of it where you do want to win. (As players) you want to win, too, but it's no fun sitting on the bench. So, just being happy for your teammates and staying positive is the biggest thing."

Thompson actually comes from a golfing family, although, in true self-deprecating fashion, she's quick to note her lack of skill on the links – ("I'm terrible. My family used to just go golfing without me and leave me at home because I'm so bad."). However, she eagerly follows the exploits of her older brother Bret Thompson, who wrapped up a post-secondary golf career with Simon Fraser University and is now playing pro. The former Manitoba golfer of the year (2014) had conditional status on the PGA Tour Canada last summer.

"We don't talk every day, but I know what he's up to, I know where he is and I'm sure he checks in on me. He won't admit to it," she said with a chuckle.

What she's up to is one of the most important games of the season on Friday when the 9-3-0-0 Griffins host the 10-2-0-0 Ooks. Different than other weekends, the rematch will be played next weekend when the two rivals meet in an outdoor game in Falun, AB (Dec. 1, 2 p.m.).

"We know that we're fighting for first now," said McAlpine. "It's: 'who's in first going into the break?' That puts a lot more weight into these games now.

"We always have heated games against NAIT already," she added. "They're a great team and we know they produce tons offensively, so we need to learn to shut them down. Goaltending will play a huge part. Our D zone is a huge contributing factor as well, specifically our defencemen, who are fighting to play a better shutdown game against NAIT than they have in the last couple of weekends."