Kraken name Jessica Campbell the NHL’s first woman assistant coach

Newest Kraken assistant coach Jessica Campbell has long said she feels she’s been treated no differently by the men working around her as she continued to break hockey barriers.

That sense of belonging should serve Saskatchewan native Campbell, 32, well in her most groundbreaking role yet — announced Wednesday morning as the first woman in NHL history to be a full-time assistant coach. The Kraken announced during their morning development camp session that new coach Dan Bylsma had promoted Campbell, his assistant and power-play overseer with the AHL Coachella Valley Firebirds the past two seasons, to similar NHL duties.

Campbell, a onetime Canadian women’s professional player and national team member, worked behind the Kraken’s bench during a preseason game last September against Calgary at Climate Pledge Arena.

“I grew up as a young player dreaming of playing in the NHL, because that’s all I knew. That’s all I’d seen. I never imagined being able to coach at this level,” Campbell said then. “For me that’s what it’s about — putting my head down and doing the work. Where it takes me, it takes me.

“I’m obviously honored to be on this path and continue to do the good work that it takes to hopefully reach that goal.”

Campbell is at the Kraken Community Iceplex this week helping the NHL squad at its annual development camp of prospects from recent drafts. It’s her third Kraken development camp since joining the Firebirds in 2022 as the first woman assistant coach in AHL history.

At last year’s camp, she talked about how she noticed nothing different about the way pro players have treated her.

“At the end of the day, I think hockey is hockey,” Campbell said. “We’re obviously coming with a different lens, and I think the perception is what it is.

“My biggest belief is respect is always earned. It’s never a given, and I try to approach the players and the game with respect. And my hope is that they respect me back.”

Several players from the Coachella Valley team during Campbell’s stint there are expected to be on this year’s Kraken squad, including Tye Kartye, Ryker Evans, John Hayden, Joey Daccord, Shane Wright and possibly Cale Fleury. Others could be called up this season or on the way within a year or two.

The NHL is the last of the major professional North American sports leagues to hire a full-time female assistant coach. The league has had other coaches in non-bench roles, the first of those coming in 2016 when Dawn Braid became a full-time skating coach with the Arizona Coyotes.

Emily Engel-Natzke in June 2022 became the first woman NHL coaching staff member when hired as video coordinator of the Washington Capitals. That same year, Meghan Hunter became an assistant general manager with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay were hired in the same capacity by the Vancouver Canucks. Not long after, the Kraken promoted Alexandra Mandrycky as an assistant GM.

Campbell went into coaching upon retiring as a player in 2017, forming a power-skating company with clients that included current NHL players. She also became an assistant coach for the Nuremberg Ice Tigers of Germany’s top pro men’s league and with the German national squad at the 2022 IIHF World Hockey Championship — the first woman on the coaching staff of a men’s national team.

Campbell’s duties will involve working with the team’s offense and helping with a power play that’s struggled in recent seasons, leading to the dismissal of assistant coach Paul McFarland in April. The offense and power play got a potentially huge boost Monday with the free-agent signings of puck-moving defenseman Brandon Montour of the Florida Panthers and centerman Chandler Stephenson of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The hiring of Campbell leaves one remaining vacancy behind the Kraken bench, created when assistant coach Jay Leach left to take a similar role with the Boston Bruins. Beyond Campbell, the Kraken have confirmed that assistant coach Dave Lowry will return for a third season, as will goaltending coach Steve Briere.

This story will be updated.

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