July 22, 2024

Jessica Campbell becomes NHL’s first woman full-time coach: Kraken, Dan Bylsma make historic addition to staff

The Seattle Kraken have made NHL history by hiring Jessica Campbell to their coaching staff, making her the first woman to serve as a full-time coach in the NHL. 

The former Coachella Valley Firebirds assistant 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 woman 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. 

“During our tenure in Coachella Valley, I saw firsthand Jessica’s commitment to player development,” Kraken coach Dan Bylsma said. “Her ability to establish relationships with her players, specifically Tye Kartye, Shane Wright and Ryker Evans, was an important factor in this hire. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with her at the NHL level.”

Kartye, an undrafted forward, won the 2023 AHL Dudley “Red” Garett Award for most outstanding rookie during the 2022-23 season. He earned a spot on the Kraken this past season, tallying 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 77 games. 

Campbell managed the Firebirds’ power play and already has some experience coaching the Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena. 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 with 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.” 

With Wednesday’s news, Campbell reached that goal. 

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 last 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.”

Although not her focus, Campbell has once again added another “first” in her coaching career. She will likely head the Kraken power play that will see a boost with the signing of 2024 Stanley Cup champion Brandon Montour