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Canadian Jessica Campbell first female assistant coach in American Hockey League

Goal is to be behind the bench in the NHL
Germany assistant coach Jessica Campbell stands behind players at the German bench during the group A Hockey World Championship match between France and Germany in Helsinki, Finland, Monday May 16, 2022. The Coachella Valley Firebirds have hired Campbell, the American Hockey League’s first female assistant coach. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Martin Meissner

Jessica Campbell broke a professional hockey barrier for women as the first female assistant coach in the American Hockey League.

The 30-year-old from Rocanville, Sask., was named to the Coachella Valley Firebirds coaching staff Tuesday.

She joins head coach Dan Bylsma behind the bench of the Seattle Kraken’s AHL affiliate in its inaugural season.

Campbell’s appointment comes weeks after she was the first woman on a coaching staff at the men’s world championship in Finland, where she was an assistant for Germany.

The New York Rangers announced last month Campbell would be a guest coach at their summer development camp, but the Kraken have lured her away with a more plum position.

“What was kind of unique with the timing of everything, Dan Bylsma reached out very shortly after everything had been 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 put myself down a path where I could be full time at the pro level.”

Campbell heads to Seattle’s development camp starting Monday to work with Kraken prospects drafted or signed as free agents over the last two seasons.

Bylsma, who coached the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009, said Kraken general manager Ron Francis asked him what qualities he wanted in an assistant coach.

“I wanted an up-and-coming coach,” Bylsma said. “I wanted a coach with a ton of passion, that’s going to demonstrate they can get in and do the work with the players. That’s the coach I set out to look for. Jessica’s name popped up.

“Just talking with Jess over a couple conversations, it was clear and evident to me what she’s done in the last three years in her skating schools and skill development with NHL players and pro players … she is that up-and-coming coach.”

Campbell spent this past season working with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm in development and heading the Windy City Storm Girls’ Hockey program in Chicago.

Campbell was also was invited to be a skills coach for the Nurnberg Ice Tigers in the German Elite League (DEL). Her role was expanded upon arrival to assistant coach which put her on the bench for games.

“Things kind of escalated ever since I went to Germany and worked in the DEL,” Campbell said. “The players have been my biggest advocates.

“That led to the opportunity to coach at the world championship. Returning back from the world championship, I was excited about the pro path I was going on the pro side of the game. Thankfully some people took notice and recognized the work.”

NHL teams have hired and promoted several women recently in scouting, player personnel and management roles.

The Toronto Maple Leafs (Hayley Wickenheiser), Chicago Blackhawks (Meghan Hunter), Vancouver Canucks (Cammi Granato, Émilie Castonguay) put those women in assistant general manager roles.

A woman has yet to stand behind an NHL bench coaching in a game, however. Campbell is a candidate to do so.

“I’m working toward that goal for sure,” Campbell said. “I’m trying to get the proper experience and learn from the best.

“It’s a job that is tough to do. You’ve got to be prepared and execute and you’ve got to do a good job to be able to be in that position and leading guys at the highest level.

“The visibility of this for me is important, but at the same time, my job is paramount, coaching and making sure that I’m doing the best I can.”

Campbell played for the Canadian women’s hockey team that earned silver at the 2015 world championship in Malmo, Sweden.

The forward also represented Canada in the world under-18 women’s championship in 2009 and 2010. Campbell was captain of the team in 2010 and scored Canada’s overtime goal in a 5-4 win over the U.S. for the gold medal.

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She spent three Canadian Women’s Hockey League seasons (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 was just starting a business as a powerskating coach in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Some NHL players in the Kelowna, B.C., area where she was living reached out to her for help ahead of Edmonton’s playoff bubble in August.

Luke Schenn, Shea Weber, Andrew Ladd and Brent Seabrook were among roughly 20 NHL players Campbell prepped for the playoffs.

“That’s when I knew I could do this,” Campbell said. “There’s value here. Guys are showing up for my work and they want me to run these skates and that’s when I got excited about the future that I had in the game and at the pro level.”

Campbell also figure skated on the CBC’s “Battle Of The Blades” in 2020 and finished second with partner Asher Hill.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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