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Kraken considering Jessica Campbell for historic hire: AHL staffer could be NHL’s first woman full-time coach

Written by on May 30, 2024

Coachella Valley Firebirds assistant coach Jessica Campbell is used to making hockey history. During her rookie season (2014-15) with the Calgary Inferno, she served as a team captain for the first-ever CWHL All-Star Game. In 2022, she became the first women to coach in the American Hockey League (AHL). And earlier this year, she became the first woman to coach behind a Seattle Kraken bench during preseason. 

It’s no wonder Campbell is being considered for an assistant role of the Kraken coaching staff, which would make her the first woman to serve as a full-time coach in NHL history. Though if she had her way, she’d talk less about being a pioneer and more about developing the next generation of talent. In his introductory press conference, new Kraken coach Dan Bylsma admitted his current AHL assistant was part of conversations with the Kraken front office. 

“Yes, as part of the conversations with Ron over the past little bit here, we’ve had numerous conversations and we’ve interviewed a couple times,” Bylsma said Tuesday. “Jessica has been part of that conversation. Stu Bickel has been part of that conversation,” he added, referring to both his current assistants with the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

The newest NHL expansion team parted ways with their first head coach, Dave Hakstol, after three seasons. Bylsma, currently the head coach of the Kraken’s AHL affiliate, will step into the role upon the conclusion of the Firebirds season. 

“What they’ve done the last two years with developing players down there — Tye Kartye and Ryker Evans — is evidence of that,” Bylsma said. “They are part of the conversation about going forward with the staff here.”

When the Kraken moved on from Hakstol in April, they also parted ways with assistant Paul MacFarland. Now that Bylsma has taken over as bench boss, he will have at least one vacancy to fill, assuming he retains assistants Jay Leach, Dave Lowry and goaltending coach Steve Briere. 

Bylsma will look for staffers who can compliment the current Kraken players, the current staff and his own style as head coach. Campbell and Bickel both fit the bill. However, in the case of Campbell, she currently manages the Firebirds’ power play, the same role MacFarland managed under Hakstol. Further, she has already coached behind the Kraken bench. 

In September, Campbell became the second-ever woman — beat out by Pittsburgh Penguins guest coach Cori Cheverie by one day — to serve as a coach in the NHL during preseason. Although Cheverie was first, Campbell, who made history as the first AHL assistant coach in 2022, did so as a full-time coach. 

“I just focused on the task at hand in coaching, but absolutely, it’s obviously a tremendous opportunity and I’m honored to be where I am and to be — it’s a humbling feeling to be a part of the Kraken organization,” Campbell told the media after the 3-2 shootout loss to Calgary in the preseason. 

On that night, Bylsma and the Kraken organization announced Campbell would address the media on behalf of the coaching staff, likely signally both an understanding of the historic moment, as well as the importance for Campbell to, perhaps, get practice talking about both hockey and her role in hockey history. 

Campbell, 31, grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL like most women hockey players her age. She has competed with and against pioneers of the women’s game at Cornell, for the Inferno in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), and for 10 years Hockey Canada. 

“I never imagined getting to coach at this level,” Campbell said in September. 

Campbell’s rise in coaching started as a power-skating coach for elite players like Olympic gold medalist Natalie Spooner and Stanley Cup champion Joel Edmundson. In 2021, she served as an assistant and skills coach for the Nurnberg Ice Tigers, who compete in the German pro league Deutsche Eishockey Liga. 

Campbell joined the coaching staff for Team Germany during the 2022 IIHF Men’s World Championship. With the German national team, she became the first woman coach for a men’s national team at the event. It was there she also crossed paths with current Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer

“For me, that’s what it’s about. Just putting my head down and doing the work,” Campbell said. “You know, where it takes me it takes me, but I’m obviously honored to be on this path and continue to just do the good work that it takes to hopefully reach that goal.” 

The goal of course, is a coaching role in the NHL for more than one preseason game. Whether Byslma brings Campbell with him to Seattle or she remains in Coachella Valley, perhaps even as the new Firebirds’ head coach, all signs point to Campbell attaining her new NHL goal sooner rather than later. 

Whether Campbell follows Bylsma to the Kraken or she stays in Coachella Valley, she will make history. However, that is a mere positive symptom of the Kraken having the foresight to add Campbell to their pipeline. 

“The job she’s done is the reason why we hired her. We didn’t hire her because she was female,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis told the Associated Press. “We hired her because she was a good coach.

“She has an interesting background, not only skating but skill development and that’s a big part of what they’ve been able to do at Coachella Valley.”

During 2023 Kraken Training Camp, CBS Sports asked Campbell about her future aspirations in hockey and beyond. Like a true Canadian, or hockey player, though probably both, Campbell remained humble.

“I’m a big believer in just keeping a growth mindset every day,” Campbell said days after joining Bylsma behind the Kraken bench at Climate Pledge Arena in the fall. “Obviously, my goal is to continue to coach at the highest level, but timelines aren’t necessary for me and definitely not where my focus is.”

With Bylsma moving on, Campbell’s timeline is very likely to lead to another “first” in her coaching career. 

The post Kraken considering Jessica Campbell for historic hire: AHL staffer could be NHL’s first woman full-time coach first appeared on CBS Sports.


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