When the Seattle Kraken announced that Dan Bylsma was being hired as the team’s new head coach on May 28, a buzz went through a segment of NHL observers. Not because of Bylsma, exactly, though the 53-year-old is a well-respected coach who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.

It was because of the ripple effect that the hire might create.

It was because of Jessica Campbell.

Campbell had spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach on Bylsma’s staff with Coachella Valley of the American Hockey League. She was a rising name in coaching circles, the woman frequently mentioned as the one who might break through, who might do for the NHL what Becky Hammon did for the NBA, what Jen Welter did for the NFL.

On Wednesday, it happened. Campbell was named an assistant coach with the Kraken, along with Bob Woods, making her the first full-time female assistant coach in NHL history to work behind the bench during the regular season.

It was a historic moment for Campbell, for the Kraken, for the NHL.

“Jessica’s hiring is a significant step forward for the sport as it signals there is a place for women who aspire to coach in the NHL,” NHL Coaches' Association director Lindsay Pennal wrote in an email to “This job is something Jess has wanted for many years. She’s put in the hard work it takes to earn this opportunity.

“Teams are always looking for a competitive edge. Players want people to help them maximize their potential. To not draw on the perspectives and talent of half the population has been a huge miss. It’s safe to assume there will be a trickle-down effect to the developmental leagues across North America with more opportunities for women opening up. That is how lasting change happens.”

Jessica Campbell becomes first woman assistant coach

It was a hire that made sense because of who Campbell is and what she’s been able to do both with Coachella Valley and at the international level, where she has worked as an assistant coach and skill coach for the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the DEL, the top men’s league in Germany, along with being an assistant coach for Team Germany at the 2022 IIHF World Championship.

It also made sense because of who the Kraken are.

When Ron Francis was going through the interview process with the ownership of the Kraken, the eventual general manager was told that business-as-usual shouldn’t be the approach, that Seattle was going to be a different sort of organization, one that had an approach as new as its status in the NHL.

“I was encouraged -- and I believe it was Jerry Bruckheimer -- to think outside the box,” Francis said in 2020 of one of the principal owners. “Don’t just do the norm because that’s the norm. You have an opportunity to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to do that.”

He hasn’t been.

The Kraken have been on the forefront of the movement to hire women in the sport, starting with one of their first hires, naming Alexandra Mandrycky as director of hockey administration. She helped bring Francis aboard and, in 2022, was elevated to assistant general manager. They added Cammi Granato, a legend in the sport, as a scout early on; Granato has since become an assistant GM with the Vancouver Canucks.

This is in the Kraken’s DNA. And the sport is better for it.

As Granato wrote in an email to four years ago about the Kraken, “They really are the ones that are setting the trend/breaking the barriers for women in sport.”

It hasn’t just been the Kraken, as women in the sport have started to pile up over the past four years, an acceleration that has seen the NHL add assistant GMs Kate Madigan (New Jersey Devils), Meghan Hunter (Chicago Blackhawks), Hayley Wickenheiser (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Emilie Castonguay (Canucks), in addition to Granato. There is Emily Engel-Natzke, hired as video coach with the Washington Capitals in 2022, the first full-time assistant coach in the NHL. There are more and more scouts every day.


To that end, Pennal started the National Hockey League Coaches' Association’s Female Coaches Development Program on March 8, 2020, an organization that has made an impact in allowing women to network, to get opportunities, to see what is possible – and to make the NHL aware of the potential hires out there.

All that resulted in what transpired on Wednesday – and in what the Seattle bench will look like in the 2024-25 season.

“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 been where my focus is. It’s always on the work, it’s on the impact, it’s on the job. … But I think the biggest thing is that I’m reminded often, and it just puts a lot of meaning into the work, [is] I know that if the team has success and my impact is a good one, it could potentially open up doors for others and open eyes for others to think differently.

“But I try to really just keep my eyes fixed on what matters every day, to be in the now, to be in the moment, to stay in the trenches with the players, and 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, she said, is special. She isn’t the only. Not in Seattle. Not in the NHL. Not anymore.

But now Campbell will become the most visible woman in the NHL, standing behind the bench every game day with the Kraken.

That matters. It makes sense.

“Just to believe anything is possible,” Campbell said. “I’ve, maybe in a naïve way, had the courage to believe that this could be possible. And even though I didn’t see it, I believed I could do it. I think 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 a young boy’s first NHL game, they’re never going to see anything different than what they can possibly become. I’m happy to be able to play that role.”

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