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The Seattle Kraken announced Tuesday they are hiring Jessica Campbell as an assistant coach for their minor league affiliate the Coachella Valley Firebirds, making her the first full-time female assistant in AHL history.
Campbell spoke with ESPN’s Emily Kaplan about the landmark accomplishment:
“I always had a belief as a young girl, playing boys’ hockey until I was 17, that I was equal and capable too. I’ve never focused on my gender. Growing up, I never dreamed of coaching, because I didn’t see it and therefore didn’t know what that path looked like. But for young athletes now, it’s so important to have that visibility for them to understand they can literally be anything they want. Some of the guys I will be coaching, their daughters can now watch them have a female coach. And that opens up the conversation, which can inspire young girls for something they might not have seen as possible.”
Campbell, who spent last season as an assistant and skills coach for the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany and served as an assistant for Germany in the men’s IIHF World Championship, is taking on the highest-profile coaching job ever held by a woman in men’s professional hockey in North America.
While Emily Engel-Natzke became the first full-time female coaching staff member in the NHL last week when the Washington Capitals promoted her to video coordinator, there has never been a full-time female assistant coach at the NHL level.
Longtime NHL head coach Dan Bylsma, who was named the Firebirds’ head coach for their inaugural season in 2022-23, reached out to Campbell about the job after hearing “rave reviews” about her work.
Bylsma chose Campbell for his staff after speaking with her and coming away impressed, and he discussed the historic hiring with ESPN:
“Obviously this is significant and it’s important Jessica is getting this opportunity. But more importantly, I wanted a coaching staff that had a ton of passion for the players, a willingness to put in the work with them, and a plan to help them develop, because our job is developing players for the Seattle Kraken. We just wanted that person, and Jessica was the person who best exemplified that. It’s what she’s all about.”
The 30-year-old Campbell is from Rocanville, Saskatchewan. She played as a forward collegiately at Cornell, professionally in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and for Canada internationally.
Campbell was part of the Canadian team that won a silver medal at the 2015 world championship in Sweden. She also won a gold medal and a silver medal in the under-18 world championship.
She transitioned into coaching after ending her playing career and founded JC Powerskating, training multiple NHL players.
Campbell is joining a brand-new organization, as the Firebirds will begin play next season and the Kraken entered the NHL as an expansion team for the 2021-22 campaign.
Given that the AHL is one step below the NHL, Campbell will have a significant hand in preparing up-and-coming players to become contributors for the Kraken.