Kraken assistant coach Jessica Campbell runs a drill during a rookie development camp on Tuesday, July 2, in Seattle. (Nick Wagner / The Seattle Times)

Kraken assistant coach Jessica Campbell runs a drill during a rookie development camp on Tuesday, July 2, in Seattle. (Nick Wagner / The Seattle Times)

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

The 32-year-old strives to ‘carry this torch’ and ‘be a representation to women with the same goals.’

At least history-making Kraken assistant coach Jessica Campbell can finally return to her 2,600-population Saskatchewan hometown next week with a decent shot at being its best-known hockey figure.

Up until Campbell, 32, on Wednesday became the first woman named a full-time NHL assistant coach, tiny Moosomin, Saskatchewan, prided itself mainly for producing former player, head coach and current Kraken consultant Dave Tippett. Not that Campbell ever used that unlikely connection to land her new NHL gig, or a prior assistant’s role with the Kraken’s Coachella Valley Firebirds minor professional affiliate.

She didn’t even meet Tippett, whose family moved away from the town when he was just 5, until last year’s Kraken training camp where they chuckled at the uncanny coincidence of where they’d both come from. To hear Campbell tell it, she’s gotten where she has on her groundbreaking journey by learning to rely mainly on herself.

“I’ve counted on good people to teach me, to guide me and so, yes, I’ve definitely relied on others,” Campbell, working the Kraken’s annual development camp for top young draft prospects, said in an interview after a news conference announcing her appointment to new head coach Dan Bylsma’s staff along with assistant Bob Woods. “But I’ve had to rely upon myself the most because I had to believe in what I was trying to do.”

She added: “I think I had to grow. And as a result, I had to challenge myself in many ways to pivot and stay with it when things maybe didn’t go my way. And when I was in opportunities where I was said ‘no’ to.

“And I was said ‘no’ to. And regardless of what that was about — age, gender, it doesn’t matter if it was anything to do with that — I think if you get put in a box, or you allow others to put you in a box, then you get stuck. So, I tried to count on myself just to do the work and if opportunities came, that was what it was about. The impact will speak for itself, so you let the impact speak.”

Campbell will now have a chance to impact the Kraken’s forward trios in her primary role while also assisting Woods in handling the power play unit. She’d done similar work alongside Bylsma with Coachella Valley the past two seasons, helping the Kraken affiliate advance to the American Hockey League (AHL) championship round both times.

“It was her ability to establish relationships with players, and NHL players,” Bylsma said of Campbell’s hiring at Wednesday’s news conference. “Work with them to improve their game. And work with them to be better players.”

But Campbell knows her expected impact won’t be strictly on the ice. That while she lacked role models from other women in pro hockey growing up, playing largely on boys’ youth teams because there were none for girls, others will now look to her as an example of what they can accomplish.

“I think I’ve always been aware and mindful that what I was doing wasn’t maybe seen as the norm,” she said. “But I think that the platform now that I’m going to be able to have to reach a wider landscape of people and obviously be a representation to women with the same goals… my hope is that I can carry that torch.”

And not only for women in hockey. But “other females in leadership positions” looking to break new ground.

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 onetime Kraken pro scout 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 as well.

Campbell grew up in a typical hockey-loving family on a prairie farm several miles outside of Moosomin’s main strip. Her dad, Gary, had played on outdoor rinks, while her mother, Monique, suited up for the University of Saskatchewan, as did her sister, Gina, later on.

Another brother, Dion, also played collegiately and then professionally in Europe while her eldest brother, Josh, played in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before being killed in a vehicle crash in 2002 when Campbell was only 10.

She thereafter wore his No. 8 throughout dominating the boys’ leagues, up through Cornell University and then the women’s pro ranks and national team in Canada.

But she’d never thought about coaching as a player, namely because no women were doing it. Instead, she’d formed a power skating company upon retiring from playing in 2017 with clients that came to include current and future NHL players.

“You learn something from all of them — the veterans, the young guys — you learn how to approach them,” Campbell said. “How to approach them differently. How to communicate with them differently. But ultimately, they’re humans that want to be communicated with.”

She eventually paid own her way to Germany on the suggestion of a friend, a former Washington Capitals winger named Stefan Ustorf, who had been hired as sporting director of a pro team in the city of Nuremberg.

“He had an opportunity for me but the club there was a little bit (financially) strapped to be able to support it,” Campbell said. “But he wanted me to be a part of it and he was doing everything he could to make me a part of it.”

Campbell kept at it, helping Nuremberg Tigers players with skating and eventually becoming an assistant coach. From there, “things really snowballed” and Campbell by 2022 became the first female coach of a men’s national team at the IIHF World Hockey Championships as an assistant with Team Germany — a squad that included Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer.

She landed the Coachella Valley gig later that summer as the first female assistant coach in AHL history. Last September, while helping coach at the Kraken’s training camp, she went behind their bench for a preseason game against Calgary at Climate Pledge Arena.

Several former Firebirds she worked with are expected on the upcoming Kraken roster, including Tye Kartye, Ryker Evans, John Hayden, Joey Daccord, Shane Wright and possibly Cale Fleury as well. Others could also be called up this season or on the way within a year or two.

It’s a long way from the frozen farms of her hometown. Moosomin’s claimed hockey son, Tippett, said Wednesday from his Minnesota summer home that his recent discussions about Campbell’s work with Kraken personnel ahead of filling the team’s coaching vacancies left him impressed.

“I’ve heard she’s supposed to be really, really good,” Tippett said. “I’m anxious to see how she does.”

As are no doubt countless others, including young women looking at where a career in hockey might someday take them.

“I definitely need to carry this torch with pride and think about people that are where I wanted to be 10 years ago,” Campbell said. “And where I was 10 years ago and support them and just be that example.”

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