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Campbell becomes 1st woman to coach in NHL, named Kraken assistant

Jessica Campbell made history Wednesday, becoming the first woman to be named an NHL coach when she was hired as a Seattle Kraken assistant.

“I’m humbled, obviously, to be in this position,” Campbell said. You speak to the word first, to be the first. But that’s never really where my focus is, it’s always on the work, it’s on the impact, it’s on the job. There’s a lot to this game and to this job, and so, I’ve never taken it for granted.

“Though I am honored to be the first, I don’t want to be the only, and I honestly don’t feel like I’m the only in this organization. That’s also a very special feeling to be part of the Seattle Kraken organization and the staff and to stand by all the other remarkable women in this this League that are maybe not behind the benches. But there’s a long list of incredible women that are doing phenomenal jobs, here in management, scouting, player development. I’m just excited to do my part now behind the bench.”

Campbell, 32, joined the Kraken organization two seasons ago as an assistant in Coachella Valley, Seattle’s affiliate in the American Hockey League. She was the first woman to coach in AHL history.

Dan Bylsma was the coach of Coachella Valley for the past two seasons. He was named coach of the Kraken on May 28 after leading the Firebirds to back-to-back appearances in the Calder Cup, the AHL’s championship series. Coachella Valley lost to Hershey in each of those appearances.

He replaced Dave Hakstol, the first coach in the four-season history of the franchise. Hakstol was fired after the Kraken went 34-35-13 last season and finished 17 points removed from a Stanley Cup Playoff position

Bylsma, who won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, said he is impressed with Campbell’s work ethic and her ability to help younger prospects to develop, He mentioned forwards Tye Kartye and Shane Wright and defenseman Ryker Evans as examples.

Kartye opened eyes after a call-up during the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2023. This season, the undrafted forward had 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 77 regular-season games. Shane Wright, the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, had four goals in eight NHL games this season. Evans, 22, played his first 36 NHL games last season and had nine points (one goal, eight assists).

“Over the last two years the work with Tye Kartye and Shane Wright and Ryker Evans has clearly been evident,” Bylsma said. “She’s been able to develop those players, develop them as people and, most importantly, as hockey players. Jess is going to be working with the forwards and I am super excited about that.”

Campbell will also work with the power play, helping veteran assistant Bob Woods, who was also hired Wednesday. The 56-year-old has been a NHL assistant for the Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres.

“With Jess helping me here, she’s going to be awesome,” Woods said. “I’ve only known her for a few days, but she’s good, she’s really good. And she’s going to be very beneficial for me.”

Jessica Campbell Seatle Kraken

Seattle general manager Ron Francis first became aware of Campbell when she was an assistant coach for the men’s national team in Germany. A former NHL teammate, Tom Rowe, was also involved in the German program and recommended Campbell as someone who could teach skills and help behind a bench.

Francis took the chance, hiring her for Coachella Valley and watching closely to see how she handled the added responsibility and pressure.

To say he has been impressed would be an understatement.

“I’ve had the opportunity to watch her work the last couple years,” Francis said. “Probably not something she liked, but I sat in some power-play meetings that she was presenting, just to kind of get a sense of how it was going. And, you know, she’s got a real good knowledge of the game, a real good skill set in the development part as well. So I think the staff complements each other. And I think Dan’s done a good job putting it all together. We’re excited to see what it holds for us going forward.”

Campbell played four seasons of NCAA hockey for Cornell and then played professionally in Canada and Sweden. Eventually she became a skating and skills coach, building up a client base that featured several NHL players.

It was then that she started thinking about coaching. She wasn’t sure how it would happen, but she also intrinsically believed it to be a possibility to reach this level.

Now she is here and she is ready to embrace the opportunity.

“Just to believe anything is possible,” Campbell said. “Maybe in a naive way, I’ve had the courage to believe that this could be possible. Even though I didn’t see it, I believed I could do it. And I think that with that inner belief, whatever it is, in sport, in life, you can create whatever you believe in.

“I think what’s special and I’m excited about here in Seattle, whether it’s a young girl or young boy’s first NHL game, they’re never going to see anything different than what they can possibly become. And I’m happy to be able to play that role and picture that for the young kids.”