Old Saskatchewan. hockey player leads the way as a coach
YORKTON, SASK. –
Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette and Kendall Coyne-Schofield are among the names of women’s hockey trailblazers – a list that Jessica Campbell of Rocanville, Sask. could soon join with his work behind the bench at international and professional levels.
After a successful college and international career as a player, Campbell didn’t feel like her hockey life was over.
Instead of lacing up the skates on the ice, Campbell moved to a job behind the bench and worked on the past game when the final bell rang.
The hard work she put in paid off as Campbell became the first woman to step behind the bench in international competition last summer, with Team Germany at the World Championships.
Those two weeks in May, however, changed the trajectory of Campbell’s career and paved the way for the next generation of female hockey players.
“IT ALL STARTED IN SASKATCHEWAN”
Rocanville’s population might not be staggering, but the community of around 900 people is about to be noticed for more than just being “the world’s largest oil can”.
Campbell said she grew up in both the small southeastern community of Rocanville and in Melville, nearly 137 miles by road between the two communities.
His minor hockey was played primarily with boys’ teams in both communities, with Campbell’s aspirations at the time of one day lacing the skates of the Montreal Canadiens.
That goal was not achieved, but another continued to grow as she rose through the ranks of women’s hockey: to play international hockey for her home country — a goal that led her to leave his native province.
“Going through Team Saskatchewan programs, all the years of growth. Developmentally, that led to me moving west to British Columbia, where I went to a hockey academy and fulfilled my dream,” Campbell told CTV News.
Campbell said her experience with Hockey Canada lasted about 10 years, but she felt fortunate to have been able to continue her career in NCAA Division I in New York, with the Cornell Big Red program.
There she played four seasons – the final, as captain – while competing in three Hockey Canada U18 events in 2009 and 2010, as well as her last Women’s World Championships in 2015.
That’s when Campbell made the decision to retire from the game at age 25.
“I went straight to coaching. I always knew I wanted to be a skating coach or something, that was one of my strengths as a player and I love teaching it and I love dissecting it by breaking it down. And so, naturally, I transitioned into the training space and started teaching skating and skill development,” she said.
For the past few years, Campbell has run his power skating program, JCPowerSkating, as well as working at the USHL, AAA levels locally in his new hometown of Chicago, which has opened doors across the pond for Saskatchewan-born Campbell.
She coached in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) for the Nuremberg Ice Tigers in Germany, which earned her a role in the German national team.
“It’s been a crazy journey for me to go straight from playing to coaching, but I’ve had to work with a lot of really good athletes from youth level learners to pros and my goal is, as a coach (to) coach at the highest level,” Campbell said.
She explained that her skill set may seem unique to some, especially with the emergence of a more skillful game overall in hockey.
“I think my value proposition to players was working and that’s where I think it’s got me positioned on that right now and a little bit faster than I expected, but I’m really excited about it. and really grateful for the opportunities ahead now as a coach,” she said.
As for being behind the bench, Campbell credits his coaching career to his hockey career, but it was Saskatchewan’s support that gave him the extra boost to pursue his hockey career.
“It’s the same people and the same coaches that I had that are my biggest supporters and believers,” Campbell said. “
“Leo Parker, he’s always someone I’d shout out to because he had such a profound impact on me at a young age… he treated me like one of the boys, and he taught me at a young age and as a young girl, that (I could be) whatever I want to be and whatever dream I have, to go right after that.
Campbell said she hasn’t been able to come back to Saskatchewan as much as she would have liked in recent years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, she has just stayed in Illinois or had to travel for work rather than to return home.
“I get emotional talking about these places…honestly, COVID has been a rough and tough time to be away. But for me, (every) time I land in Regina at the airport, I have this overwhelming (feeling). Just a sense of peace, knowing that these are my people,” Campbell said.
“When you grow up in small towns, with big dreams like me in Rocanville and Melville, and you’re surrounded by so many people cheering you on for that dream and the size of that dream…for me that journey, this path is for Saskatchewan and it is for the people who have been behind me.
“IT’S NOT A RACE FOR ME TO GET TO THE NHL”
While many in the game are looking for hockey firsts, Campbell said she’s in no rush to push for a full-time NHL job — but that might not be the reason you think.
“It’s not a race for me to get into the NHL. For me, it’s an everyday race to improve, prepare and know what I’m doing. And that I can’t slow down, in this mindset of growing and being better and equipping myself with knowledge and skills,” she explained.
“When I was at the World Championships and the people around that pioneering conversation (brought me) had tremendous support, now you’re showing what has never been done. You stand there representing so many people. I stood there and looked beyond myself and it was actually such a familiar space for me because I saw myself as a coach, I conducted myself among the pros.
The two weeks in Finland opened doors for Campbell. But, she believes it was more from the perspective of the players than the actual decision makers of the game of hockey.
“They bought into what I was coaching and what I was saying. The messages I was bringing to the team and I think the players are the main reason why I am here, where I am now,” she said.
This experience led to an invitation to join the New York Rangers development camp coaching staff.
“I had some very good people who promoted and encouraged me and I think that led to some key people in the Rangers organization knowing that I wanted to be a coach at a professional level and they opened the door for me. door in New York,” she says.
New York is a long way from Rocanville – 3,000 miles, to be exact on foot – but as Campbell straps on his skates at the next Rangers development camp, the place where his dream began will always be on his mind.
Campbell still remembers the boiler rooms, the janitor’s closets, the figure skating halls, all the places she had to get ready before the game while playing men’s hockey in southeast Saskatchewan.
“It was not more difficult as a woman. It was just different,” she said. “I wanted to be one of the boys…because if you’re one of the boys, the further you go.” I don’t know if that was the right mindset. But that mindset, I think, has guided me throughout my career and kept me focused on my goals.
“I never saw the limits or barriers that existed for female hockey players. I just wanted to keep chasing after my dreams.
She said that as a girl, the dream of women’s hockey wasn’t instilled until she saw the Olympic competitions, where the Cassie Campbells of the world brought forth the red and white jersey for the Canada.
As the professional women’s hockey ranks continue to work toward a single premier league, the transition into coaching has given Campbell a whole new look at where she could be.
But those boiler rooms are still on Campbell’s mind.
“You think about the qualities it instills in you. Staying focused on your own goals, not worrying about all the other things that are challenges – I think that grounded me as a person and as a professional, now a coach,” she said. declared.
“I’m grateful for all the challenges that have been planted in my career because without them I wouldn’t be where I am.”