Heart and Soul
Hard-nosed Jesse Kessler brings a faithful foundation to the Tomahawks blueline.
By Suzanne Grove
During any given home game at the War Memorial Arena, fans can hear one distinct voice rising up from the ice, audible over the sounds of players battling for pucks in the corners and the thud of hard body checks that leave the boards shaking from impact. With the Tomahawks logo displayed proudly on his chest and the number 23 on the back of his sweater, Johnstown defenseman Jesse Kessler is always screaming to his teammates, motioning with his gloved hand in the air, keeping the lines of communication open on the ice.
Kessler, who spent last season with the franchise in Alaska, has garnered tremendous respect from his fans, teammates, and coaches for his outgoing personality, intelligence, and refusal to give anything less than 100 percent effort throughout every game.
“He’s the heart and soul of our defense,” said Assistant Coach Mike Letizia. “He’s always paying the price, no matter what he has to do for the team. He battles hard every night and will put his face and body out there to block shots.”
Kessler’s swollen and stitched upper lip is proof of this fact. He was slashed across the face in Johnstown’s November 4 game against Springfield, and, despite leaving more than a few drops of blood behind on the ice, quickly returned to action and finished the game after being seen by team doctors.
The Franklin, TN native and Tomahawks alternate captain started playing roller hockey at around four years of age and his days in the suburbs of Nashville largely revolved around three things: hockey, school, and church. In fact, Kessler’s faith has played a large role in his life, making him the perfect candidate to host a Q&A session with fans about religion and hockey after Friday night’s game against Kalamazoo as part of the Tomahawks’ Faith and Family Night.
“Faith has always been big with me,” said Kessler. “I grew up in the south where there are churches on every corner, so it was an important part of my life as a kid. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences of playing hockey and incorporating my faith with the fact that I’m a hard-nosed hockey player.”
Kessler’s upbeat, quick-witted demeanor is complemented by his kindness and dedication to giving back to others, making for a well-rounded individual the Tomahawks are proud to have on their roster. He was heavily involved with his church youth group in Tennessee and has gone on multiple mission trips over the years, including excursions to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and two weeks in Nicaragua.
But, no one should be fooled by his easy-going and kind nature off the ice. Once he laces up the skates, Kessler is a powerful force. He has gone 4-8-12 this season and heads into the weekend tied in fourth place for points by a defenseman in the NAHL.
“He’s also chipping in offensively, and he’s scored some huge goals for us,” offered Letizia. “He enjoys the challenge of playing against and shutting down the other teams’ best players.”
Kessler says he take his role for the Tomahawks seriously, and considers sticking up for his teammates and sacrificing his body for the team as essential parts of his job.
Head Coach Jason Spence sees Kessler as a true team player. “No one works harder or cares more than he does,” Spence said.
While Kessler was very athletic as a child, constantly playing backyard football, soccer, and hockey with the kids in his neighborhood, he did not put on his first pair of ice skates until the age of 10 when a roller hockey teammate encouraged him to try it. A passion for the game and fierce competitiveness pushed him to stick with ice hockey, which he claims has some of the best athletes.
“Hockey players are a lot more athletic,” he said. “We warm up for our games by playing soccer and baseball. No other sport warms up by playing hockey.”
And, when Kessler isn’t playing hockey? He says he has a lot of fun just hanging out and watching movies with his billet family, Cathy and Mick Lohr.
Anyone who has spent any time at all around Kessler agrees that they’re bound to have a good time if he’s around.