Jessica Campbell has been waiting, and preparing, throughout her entire hockey career for this moment. Each and every experience she's had, on and off the ice, has led her here.
"I've had this focus to continue and stay on my path and stay on track to learn, and grow, and be on top of the game at the pro level, and to make sure I'm always striving to be the best that I can be," Campbell said in an interview with NewYorkRangers.com on Tuesday, "so that an opportunity will come -- like it has now -- and that I'm ready for it."
On Tuesday, the Rangers announced that Campbell will join the Rangers' 2022 Development Camp as a coach, becoming the first woman in the history of the Original Six franchises to serve in such a role.
"It's hard to even unpack the level of gratitude and excitement for the opportunity because I've been working hard the last two years to really establish myself at the pro level," Campbell said. "I bring something unique and different to the table, and I'm confident and believe that that's what is going to be my special value-add. But when it comes to the actual opportunity at hand, I haven't really processed it. I think putting on the Rangers tracksuit in the role as a coach with those players is going to be a very special moment for me, and obviously really special for the growth of the game."
As a player, Campbell's resume is lengthy. The native of Rocanville, Saskatchewan skated for four years at Cornell, captaining the Big Red during her senior season, before playing professionally for the Calgary Inferno of the CWHL from 2014 through 2017. Prior to Cornell, Campbell represented Canada at two U-18 World Junior Championships, and in 2010, she captained Team Canada, scored the golden goal and was named tournament MVP.
This past year, Campbell made the transition to coaching, first with the Windy City Storm Girl's Hockey Program in Chicago, then with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), where she served as an assistant coach and skills coach.
This spring, Campbell joined Germany's coaching staff at the Men's World Championship, becoming the first woman to join the coaching staff of a national team participating in Worlds.
That's where Campbell was discovered by Jed Ortmeyer, Director of Player Development at the Rangers, and Antti Miettinen, the Rangers' Player Development Assistant, both of whom spearhead the club's development camp.
"Thankfully, I had a good experience and the players have spoken highly of me in the media and in the follow-up stories about my time in Nuremberg with the coaching staff, so Antti and Jed took note of the things that were being said and the unique opportunity for me maybe to come in a do the same things with the Rangers," Campbell said. "I think that the momentum from World Championships and my time coaching at the pro level in Germany was definitely what spearheaded all of the communication and obviously the meaningful connection to Antti out in Germany."
Campbell's coaching style has been heavily influenced by Doug Derraugh, who served as her coach during her tenure at Cornell. It relies on one simple yet critical principle: strong communication.
"I've realized that my communication is what separates me, and it's going to continue to help me be successful - just being strong, confident and convicted in believing what any coach believes in, and just being able to deliver that in a meaningful way to the players," she said. "Doug Derraugh, whom I admire and was the best coach I ever had - he's a great communicator and smart and taught me so much about the game. He was a pivotal force for me as a player, but now for me as a coach - because we rely on a lot of mentors and good people - he has shaped me and the coach that I want to continue to be.
"You take a little piece of everybody who has helped you along the way, but he, for sure, has supported me and knows that this is an opportunity that I'm capable of."
A communications major at Cornell, Campbell has always applied what she learned in the classroom to how she coaches on the ice - and it's those communications skills that she sees as her own differentiating factor.
"My approach is just to be a really strong communicator, to make sure my communication and my approach to player development makes complete sense to the game and to the situations that the players find themselves in," Campbell said. "Anytime I'm teaching any skills or skating to any athletes at any level - I've been in their shoes, and I know the process and the thought processes that the players are going through. It's my job to guide them, to add more tools to their tool belt, and that has to start with the game and adding value to their game.
"The way I try and communicate, the words I try to use to make it clear to connect the dots - it's all to make sure players understand that everything I'm going to tell them is going to help them and the team be successful. So I think that I have a little bit of a different approach and a mindset that brings value to the coaching staff."
The opportunity to coach in New York - a place that meant so much to her as a college player, and a city that quickly became her favorite in North America - makes all of this even sweeter.
"My sister said to me the other day, 'Isn't it so funny that it's New York, of all teams, where it's going to begin for you? Just because you've always loved that city, and always had this soft spot for the Rangers?'" Campbell said. "Growing up in a hockey household, my grandmother was a big Mark Messier fan, so the Rangers were always a household conversation as well. I'm very excited for the fact that it is the Rangers - the incredible foundation, and with the playoff run, how much good is coming for the Rangers for the next few years, and the excitement of the next chapter. To be part of that as well, and knowing where they are at, is really special. I take a lot of pride in the opportunity to be part of it."
Some of this has yet to sink in for Campbell - that she'll be a part of a coaching staff for an NHL team, an Original Six team, a team that could soon rely on some of the players at this very development camp to make a difference in the future of the club.
But the opportunity is one she has long been preparing for, and one she is ready to seize.
"We as coaches have the opportunity to make that impact on the players in that five-day period, but also to do it in any unique way," Campbell said. "I'm excited about the fact that I get to add to that experience for them and to be part of it, and hopefully continue the growth for me at the pro level."