Jessica Campbell has just made history, and now takes the next step of making an impact in the coaching circle closest to the National Hockey League.
The Coachella Valley Firebirds, preparing for their expansion season as new American Hockey League affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, hired Campbell as assistant coach and introduced her to the media at a Tuesday morning virtual news conference.
Campbell, 30, became the first female to hold an assistant coach position in AHL history, the primary minor league development level for future NHL players, coaches, and staff. She is also the first assistant coach onboarded with the Firebirds, who hired Dan Bylsma as head coach on June 21.
“When I was looking for a staff to lead the team and players, I wanted to find a person with passion, and knowledge and experience in the game – and could relate to the players,” said Bylsma. “That’s where Jess’ talent and skill came into play.”
Campbell, who told Bob Condor of NHL.com in a phone interview that she began the process two weeks ago after Bylsma was hired, will bring playing and coaching experience covering several levels across multiple ranks, most recently as assistant coach for Team Germany at this year’s World Championship where she became the first female in the event’s history to serve on a coaching staff.
“It’s really special to be part of a first, and the start of Coachella Valley,” said Campbell. “For me it was a very easy yes. Our conversations were very aligned to what we wanted to try to accomplish together.”
“I’m excited to lean from Dan and our staff and be a part of the Seattle Kraken organization and what it stands for.”
Campbell’s experience, including an assistant coach and skills coach role with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers in Germany’s professional DEL league, led her to a diplomatic understanding of influencing talent development in the modern era.
“The coach that cared, first and foremost,” said Campbell. “People always do more when they’re appreciated. My approach as a skating and skills coach, now that’s embedded, I understand I work with – the ice can be a very vulnerable space when it comes to working on their deficiencies.”
“They’re coming to me in ways to improve their strengths and work on their game. You’ve got to have a trust they’re working for you, not against you.”
It’s a very familiar tone set by her new bench boss, Bylsma, who told the media at his introductory news conference in June he was a player who “didn’t want to be yelled at, screamed at, and sent on a mission.”
“That’s been the fun part of my journey, stepping into my role and figuring out what do we have,” said Campbell. “How can I help make each of these players successful, add value to their game, and give more tools to their toolbelt to be impact players and be a threat on the ice?”
Bylsma said the process started with an internal scan of potential candidates and after seeking the advice of several colleagues throughout the ranks, Campbell’s name continued to surface. That led to a meeting with Kraken general manager Ron Francis, who then endorsed her name too.
Bylsma reached out with a cold e-mail to her coaching school address, and the rest is history.
Campbell, who skated for Canada at a pair of Under-18 World Junior Championships and scored the gold medal winning goal as tournament MVP and team captain 12 years ago, also carries three years of pro experience in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with a Clarkson Cup title in 2016, along with four years at Cornell with one mission now in mind.
“Our focus is on development and bringing the best to players,” said Campbell.
The Firebirds will open training camp in Seattle with their new home, Acrisure Arena, scheduled to open its doors this coming December.