Jessica Campbell broke a professional hockey barrier for women by becoming the American Hockey League’s first assistant coach.
The 30-year-old from Rocanville, Sask., was named to the Coachella Valley Firebirds coaching staff on Tuesday.
She joined head coach Dan Bylsma behind the bench at the AHL affiliate Seattle Kraken in its inaugural season.
Campbell’s appointment comes weeks after she was the first woman on the coaching staff at the men’s world championship in Finland, where she was an assistant for Germany.
The New York Rangers announced last month that Campbell would be a guest coach at their summer development camp, but the Kraken lured her with a more plum position.
“Which was a bit unique with the timing of everything, Dan Bylsma reached out very shortly after it was all announced and he was talking about a long term opportunity within Coachella and the Kraken organization” , Campbell said.
“It’s always been my goal to try to get myself on a path where I could be full-time professionally.”
Campbell will travel to Seattle’s development camp beginning Monday to work with Kraken prospects drafted or signed as free agents the past two seasons.
Bylsma, who coached the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, said Kraken general manager Ron Francis asked him what qualities he was looking for in an assistant coach.
“I wanted a promising coach,” Bylsma said. “I wanted a coach with a ton of passion, who is going to demonstrate that he can come in and get the job done with the players. This is the coach I was looking for. Jessica’s name popped up.
“Just speaking with Jess over a few conversations, it was clear and obvious to me what she has been doing over the past three years in her skating schools and skill development with NHL players and players. professionals…she’s that up-and-coming coach.”
Campbell spent the last season working with the developing USHL’s Tri-City Storm and leading the Windy City Storm women’s hockey program in Chicago.
Campbell was also asked to become a skills coach for the Nuremberg Ice Tigers in the German Elite League (DEL). Her role was expanded upon her arrival to assistant coach, which saw her benched for games.
“Things kind of got worse since I went to Germany and worked at DEL,” Campbell said. “The players have been my biggest defenders.
“It led to the opportunity to coach at the world championship. Coming back from the world championship, I was excited about the career path I was taking on the professional side of the game. Luckily, some people noticed and recognized the work.
NHL teams have recently hired and promoted several women to scouting, player personnel and management positions.
The Toronto Maple Leafs (Hayley Wickenheiser), the Chicago Blackhawks (Meghan Hunter), the Vancouver Canucks (Cammi Granato, Émilie Castonguay) have appointed these women to assistant general manager positions.
However, a woman has yet to be behind an NHL bench coach in a game. Campbell is a candidate to do so.
“I’m definitely working towards that goal,” Campbell said. “I try to get the right experience and learn from the best.
“It’s a tough job to do. You have to be prepared and execute and you have to do a good job to be able to be in that position and lead the guys at the top level.
“For me, the visibility of that is important, but at the same time my job is paramount, coaching and making sure I’m doing my best.”
Campbell played for the Canadian women’s hockey team which won silver at the 2015 world championship in Malmö, Sweden.
The forward also represented Canada at the World Women’s Under-18 Championship in 2009 and 2010. Campbell captained the team in 2010 and scored Canada’s goal in overtime in a 5-4 win over the States United for the gold medal.
She spent three seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (2014-17) with the Calgary Inferno and won a Clarkson Cup with them in 2016. She scored twice in an 8-3 win over Montreal in the championship game.
Campbell had just started a business as a powerskating coach in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Some NHL players from the Kelowna, B.C., area, where she lived, asked her for help before Edmonton’s playoff bubble in August.
Luke Schenn, Shea Weber, Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook were among the 20+ NHL players Campbell groomed for the playoffs.
“That’s when I knew I could do it,” Campbell said. “There is value here. Guys show up for my job and they want me to run these skates and that’s when I got excited about the future I had in the game and on a pro level.
Campbell also figure skated on CBC’s “Battle Of The Blades” in 2020 and finished second with partner Asher Hill.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
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