Jessica Campbell becomes first female NHL assistant coach

Former Team Canada player makes jump to Seattle from AHL with Bylsma.

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SEATTLE — Former Team Canada player Jessica Campbell will become the first woman to work on the bench of an NHL franchise after the Seattle Kraken hired her as an assistant coach Wednesday.

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Campbell has spent the past two seasons working as an assistant coach for Seattle’s AHL affiliate in Coachella Valley alongside head coach Dan Bylsma, who was hired in late May to take over the head job with the Kraken. There were immediate questions about whether Campbell would be making the move with Bylsma to Seattle.

She will be breaking through another barrier for women in hockey. Emily Engel-Natzke was hired by the Washington Capitals in 2022 as a video coach, making her the first woman with a full-time assistant role in the league.

Now, there will be a woman on the bench.

Campbell was a decorated player in the NCAA, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and Canada’s women’s national team, with whom she won silver at the 2015 world championship.

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With the exception of a short stint with the Malmo Redhawks in Sweden in 2019-20, she hung up her skates in 2017 and had become highly regarded as a skating coach when she joined Coachella Valley in 2022. She also worked as an assistant coach for Germany during the 2022 IIHF World Championships.

The 32-year-old native of Rocanville, Sask., was the first full-time female assistant coach in the AHL when she was hired by Coachella Valley before the start of its first season. She also had a one-game stint as an assistant on the Kraken bench for a pre-season game against Calgary last September.

But having a woman on the bench as a coach has been an area where the NHL has lagged behind the NBA and NFL.

The NHL Coaches Association launched a Female Coaches Development Program in 2021 with the goal of growing the pool of available candidates.

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Even before joining the league in 2021, the Kraken were at the forefront of giving women opportunities in hockey operations. Current assistant general manager Alexandra Mandrycky was one of the first front-office hires made by the franchise in 2018 as director of hockey administration and was part of the group that led the search for a general manager that ended with the hire of Ron Francis.

Namita Nandakumar was hired in 2020 and is a senior analyst in hockey operations.

Seattle also hired Hall of Famer Cammi Granato as a pro scout in 2019, a role she held before joining the Vancouver Canucks as an assistant GM in 2022.

Along with Campbell, the Kraken filled another spot on the coaching staff by hiring Bob Woods as one of Bylsma’s assistants. Woods was an assistant with Minnesota since 2017, but was let go when Dean Evason was fired as head coach early last season.

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