Jessica Campbell was working with the Swedish Hockey League’s Malmo Redhawks during the 2019–20 season, serving as the skating development coach for the junior team when the Redhawks’ women’s program asked her if she would consider lacing the skates again.
The women’s club hoped to win Division 1 – the second division of women’s hockey in Sweden, now called Damettan – to advance to the series that would allow them to advance to the top tier, the Swedish Women’s Hockey League. The club thought Campbell, who had ample college and professional playing experience, could help out on the ice.
Campbell had been on the coaching side for the past several years. She hadn’t played competitively in a while, but she became involved with the organization and eventually agreed. The situation suited Campbell.
At the core of her hockey career, Campbell is initially a former player. And after four seasons at Cornell, where she earned a degree in communications, Campbell became a respected skills coach, which is why she was first based in Sweden.
Now, Campbell is working to establish herself as a team coach at the professional level — and her next step will be as a coach for the New York Rangers’ 2022 development camp July 11-15.
Campbell’s four goals and one assist in six qualifiers weren’t enough to help the Redhawks reach their goal. However, it was a quintessential portrayal of what makes Campbell a triple threat in the field of hockey coaching.
“Sometimes they gave me the clipboard too,” she laughed as she told The Post in a recent phone interview.
Campbell’s appearance with the Redhawks marked the end of her playing career. Her main business became power skating and skill development. In recent offseasons, Campbell has worked with several NHL players — including the Islanders’ Mat Barzal, the Canadiens’ Shea Weber and the Predators’ Dante Fabbro — in four- to eight-week development programs.
Campbell joined the USHL’s Tri-City Storm development program and last season ran the Windy City Storm Girl’s Hockey program in Chicago. She also worked as an assistant trainer and skills coach for the Nuremberg Ice Tigers of the German Ice Hockey League (DEL). She went on to become the first woman on a national team’s coaching staff and that spring took part with Germany at the IIHF Men’s World Championship.
Antti Miettinen, Rangers’ player development assistant, came across Campbell in a news article about her time in the DEL. The two met during the World Championships tournament in Finland, where Campbell was also introduced to Rangers assistant general manager Ryan Martin. The rest is history as Campbell prepares to become the first woman in Original Six franchise history to serve as a development camp coach.
“We’re very excited to have her,” president and general manager Chris Drury said of the 30-year-old on a conference call with reporters shortly after Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs. “You never know what will and won’t fit with people’s schedules during the off-season. Their coaching and player CVs certainly speak for themselves. I think she will bring a lot to our group this week and we’re excited to have her in Tarrytown.”
Campbell said she’s willing to contribute to the development camp, which is being run by Rangers Director of Player Development Jed Ortmeyer, however the team sees fit. However, her specialty is competence development. Creating a skill session that is NHL caliber and position specific is what she does best. She said she hopes to host skating and skill sessions for those interested to get an idea of what they need to do at the NHL level to be successful.
Having an Ivy League training in communications sets Campbell apart from many in the same position. She understands the importance of being articulate and detail-oriented during presentations, as well as having the ability to make succinct points that help players connect the dots.
Campbell said she firmly believes in creating safe spaces to fail and grow, but her personal connection to the game from her playing days gives her an even deeper insight into the players she works with.
“When I came into the field four years ago and went from player to coach, I think understanding what the players wanted was the most obvious thing for me,” Campbell said. “Because I came straight out of the game. This is no different than the pros. I understand how it feels. Ice hockey is ice hockey. Yes, maybe the women’s game and the men’s game have fundamental differences, let’s say. But ideally, at the end of the day, the men’s game moves heavily towards the women’s game in terms of puck possession and skill. And there is contact in women’s football.
“So the skills that make players successful and most impactful now at the NHL level are also things that have been very relevant on the female side throughout my career. Now, when it comes to the actual coaching, I think the communication piece in my background – my education – I spent a lot of time in the classroom learning and developing my communication skills.”
Growing up in a household that she felt was rooted in hockey, Campbell dreamed of playing in the NHL. A power forward whose fast skating and offensive skills were her strengths, Campbell played competitively with boys until she was 16, growing up in Saskatchewan. She then served as a captain at Cornell in her senior year before playing three seasons for the Calgary Inferno of the now-defunct Canadian Women‘s Hockey League.
Campbell recalled the moment she realized her hockey career was taking the leap into coaching. It was during her time with the Redhawks in Malmo that she happened to win a silver medal at the 2015 Women’s World Championship with Team Canada.
Campbell hopes to one day coach full-time in the NHL. Her first big step towards that goal will be with Rangers next month.
“I think the value that women bring to the game now, no matter what the role, whether it’s management, media, you know, the perspective is different,” Campbell said. “It’s a different voice, a different way of looking at things. Being on the coaching side and being more in the trenches and behind the scenes in that area, close to the players’ development, I look forward to the opportunity.
“Of course I know I represent many others who have the same goals and aspirations. We are less than more, but at the same time I think we will go in the right direction.”