NHL gets its first female coach — an assistant with the Seattle Kraken

NHL gets its first female coach — an assistant with the Seattle Kraken

Jessica Campbell became the first female coach in the NHL when the Seattle Kraken named her an assistant Wednesday, the league announced.

Campbell, 31, joins Dan Bylsma, who was named the team’s head coach on May 28, the NHL said. For the last two years, the pair worked together as coach and assistant for Seattle’s American Hockey League affiliate in Thousand Palms, California, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

The Firebirds named Campbell the first female full-time assistant coach in the AHL two years ago, on July 4, 2022, according to the NHL.

seattle kraken assistant coach
Jessica Campbell.Courtesy Seattle Kraken

“During our tenure in Coachella Valley, I saw firsthand Jessica’s commitment to player development,” Bylsma said, according to the NHL. “Her ability to establish relationships with her players, specifically Tye KartyeShane 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.”

Campbell helped lead the Firebirds to the Calder Cup Final in their first season, 2022-23, and again this past season, according to the NHL.

Campbell also joined Bylsma behind the bench in September, coaching the Kraken against the Calgary Flames in a preseason game. The Kraken lost 3-2.

In doing so, she became the latest member of a club of women to coach an NHL game, according to the league, which said Campbell followed in Kori Cheverie’s footsteps after she guest-coached the Pittsburgh Penguins in a preseason game the day before Campbell coached the Kraken.

Campbell also appeared for on-ice coaching sessions at the Kraken’s training camp, the NHL said, and was the first woman to coach at the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship as an assistant for Germany, which included Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer on the team.

“There was a moment when I realized that I was coaching NHL players on our team and competing against NHL players,” Campbell told the Kraken website after she was hired by Coachella Valley. “My words were welcomed, and I was respected. I realized I can do this.”

Kraken general manager Ron Francis said May 28 that the team did not hire Campbell solely because she is a woman, according to the NHL.

“We hired her because we thought she’s a good coach,” Francis said. “She has an interesting background with not only skating, but skill development, and that’s been a big part of what they’ve been able to do with Coachella Valley.”

Campbell joins a list of other first-time female coaches in North America’s four major sports leagues.

Alyssa Nakken first suited up for the San Francisco Giants in 2020 and then became MLB’s first female coach on the field two years later when she took over at first base following an ejection.

Becky Hammon served on the bench of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs for eight seasons, starting in 2014, before she took over the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA. She has guided Las Vegas to the past two WNBA titles.

The Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith in 2016 to be their special teams quality-control coach.

Hockey runs deep for Campbell, who grew up on the ice playing against boys in her hometown of Rocanville, Saskatchewan, where, at the time, girls hockey was not an option, according to the NHL. She went on to play for Cornell University and then for Calgary of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and Malmö of the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.

She then began to work as a skating and skills coach, the NHL said, launching her coaching career.

“I grew up as a young player dreaming of playing in the NHL because that’s all I knew,” Campbell said, according to the NHL. “I never imagined being able to coach at this level. It’s just putting my head down, doing the work, and where it takes me, it takes me. I’m obviously honored to be on this path and continuing to just do the good work that it takes to hopefully reach that goal.”

Rebecca Cohen

Rebecca Cohen is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

David K. Li

David K. Li is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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