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Jessica Campbell makes NHL history as league's first woman assistant coach

The Seattle Kraken hired Campbell, who will now be the first woman to hold an on-the-bench role as an assistant or associate coach in NHL history.
Kraken Campbell Hockey
Posted at 12:31 PM, Jul 04, 2024

Once her playing career ended, Jessica Campbell found a new passion in coaching.

At the time, she may not have expected it would eventually lead her to the NHL, let alone as the first woman to work on the bench of an NHL franchise.

“I've had — maybe in a naive way — had the courage to believe this is possible, and even though I didn't see it, I believed I could do it," Campbell said. "And I think with that inner belief, whatever it is in sport and life, you can create whatever you believe in."

Campbell was hired as an assistant coach for the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday, becoming the first woman to hold an on-the-bench role as an assistant or associate coach in NHL history.

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She has spent the past two seasons working as an assistant coach for Seattle’s AHL affiliate in Coachella Valley alongside Dan Bylsma, who was hired in late May as the head coach for the Kraken. There were immediate questions about whether Campbell would be making the move.

She will, and in doing so break through another barrier for women in hockey. Emily Engel-Natzke was hired by the Washington Capitals in 2022 as video coach, making her the first woman with a full-time assistant role in the league.

Now, there will be a woman on the bench.

“I'm humbled, obviously, to be in this position and you speak to the word 'first,' to be the first, but that's never really where my focus is. It's always on the work. It's on the impact. It's on the job. There's a lot to this game and to this job, so I've never taken it for granted,” Campbell said.

“I think the biggest thing is I'm reminded often and it puts a lot of meaning into the work, and I know that if the team has success and my impact is a good one then it could potentially open up doors for others and maybe open eyes for others to maybe think differently.”

Campbell was a decorated player in the NCAA, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and Canada’s women’s national team, with whom she won silver at the 2015 World Championship.

With the exception of a short stint with the Malmo Redhawks in Sweden in 2019-20, she hung up her skates in 2017 and had become highly regarded as a skating coach when she joined Coachella Valley in 2022. She had also worked as an assistant coach for Germany during the 2022 IIHF World Championships.

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She said it was during her time running her own business as a skating and skill-development coach that the idea of coaching in the NHL felt like an aspiration worth pursuing. Campbell specifically noted the time she spent working with Brent Seabrook during his recovery from injury.

“I realized this is what I want to do. These guys are showing up for my skates in numbers and maybe I want to pursue this goal in a different light, get behind the bench and I felt like what I was teaching, what I was working with them on was translating and it was hitting in a different way,” Campbell said.

The 32-year-old native of Rocanville, Saskatchewan, was the first full-time female assistant coach in the AHL when she was hired by Coachella Valley before the start of its first season. She also had a one-game stint as an assistant on the Kraken bench for a preseason game against Calgary last September.

Bylsma noted Campbell's work in developing the likes of Ryker Evans, Shane Wright and Tye Kartye — all important players for the Kraken moving forward — while at Coachella Valley as part of the reason he wanted to bring her to Seattle.

“Tye Kartye did the work. It's all on Tye, but it's with Jessica's guidance. She's grown, she's demonstrated that over the last two years so it makes me eager for her to get a chance to do it at the NHL level,” Bylsma said.

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Having a woman on the bench as a coach has been an area where the NHL has lagged behind the NBA, MLB and NFL.

The NHL Coaches Association launched a Female Coaches Development Program in 2021 with the goal of growing the pool of available candidates.

Even before joining the league in 2021, the Kraken were at the forefront of giving women opportunities in hockey operations. Current assistant general manager Alexandra Mandrycky was one of the first front-office hires made by the franchise in 2018 as director of hockey administration and was part of the group that led the search for a general manager that ended with the hire of Ron Francis.

Namita Nandakumar was hired in 2020 and is a senior analyst in hockey operations.

Seattle also hired Hall of Famer Cammi Granato as a pro scout in 2019, a role she held before joining the Vancouver Canucks as an assistant GM in 2022.

Along with Campbell, the Kraken filled another spot on the coaching staff by hiring Bob Woods as one of Bylsma's assistants. Woods was an assistant with Minnesota since 2017, but was let go when Dean Evason was fired as head coach early last season.

Assistant coach Dave Lowry, goaltending coach Steve Briere, video coach Tim Ohashi and video assistant Brady Morgan complete the rest of the coaching staff.

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