Saskatchewan's women's hockey making strides on the big stage
It’s an historical time for women in hockey as the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) prepares for its inaugural season.
The league held its draft earlier this month which saw two Saskatchewan players have their names called.
It also comes as a local Saskatchewan woman becomes one of two to be the first to coach in the National Hockey League (NHL).
On Tuesday, Rocanville, Sask.’s Jessica Campbell made history in the Seattle Kraken’s preseason game as she stood behind the bench as the team’s assistant coach.
Campbell was one of two women to make headlines this week as Kori Cheverie was in the same role but for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think it’s really positive and the visibility you know I thought the other night what a cool opportunity for young kids, boys and specifically girls, to experience and witness their first hockey game ever for them. They’ll never know any different than a female on the bench,” Campbell said.
Campbell already broke barriers when in 2022 she was hired as the assistant coach of the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the minor league affiliate of the Kraken.
This move made her the first female behind the bench as a full-time coach in the American Hockey League (AHL).
“Our (Firebirds) staff is here with their (Kraken) staff running training camp and with the unique scenario of a split squad, two Kraken teams playing two Calgary teams,” Campbell shared on the experience. “Our staff divided into two and so they needed extra support and so for me to be able to step into that role and get the opportunity to coach one of the teams was so special and I’m definitely grateful for that chance.”
Campbell was quick to point to the positive feedback when asked about any challenges she has faced along the way and from this latest coaching experience.
“I’m so focused on my foals and coaching. When you’re inside the bottle you don’t necessarily see what’s the perspective from the outside because I’m just so focused on making sure the work, the impact, and what I’m doing every day, my coaching approach is up to the par that I expect of myself,” she explained.
“It’s incredible, it’s been really positive, and I’m grateful,” she exclaimed.
It is an exciting time for women in the sport. On the playing side the PWHL is just a few months away from its inaugural season which will begin in January.
On Sept. 18 the PWHL held its inaugural draft which consisted of 15 rounds and 90 selections. Prince Albert’s Brooke Hobson and Saskatoon’s Sophie Shirley were the sole Saskatchewan products to be selected.
Hobson was selected 45th overall to New York and Shirley 63rd overall to Boston.
“It was crazy,” Shirely exclaimed. “I think to even be in the conversation of the draft and be able to kind of be there firsthand and get to see everything happen, it was an historic day for women’s hockey. For me it was a little bit of a longer wait being drafted in the eleventh round but it was just as exciting as some of the girls that went earlier.”
“I’m just super excited to be able to play in Boston,” she added excitedly.
Shirley graduated from the University of Wisconsin with an education degree where she was a member of their NCAA women’s hockey team.
“I think a lot of us take a lot of pride in the amount of work that been done to get to this point,” she shared. “Something like this doesn’t happen overnight, there’s been years and years to be able to be where we are now with women’s hockey and to be able to have a stable league like this one is great.”
Over at the University of Regina, their women’s hockey team has taken notice of the strides made recently in the sport and are ecstatic for what the future could hold.
“I think it’s really exciting for female hockey and it’s a big step towards kind of closing the gender gap that exists in the sport already,” said Cougars’ forward, Jadyn Kushniruk. “I think it’s something that coming from a USPORT athlete, it’s exciting to strive now for a next step.”
Kushniruk, who also hails from Saskatoon, was also happy to see the success that Saskatchewan women are having in the sport.
“I think it just goes to show, wherever you come from, if you put your mind to doing something you’re more than capable of doing it,” said Kushniruk.
Campbell was quick to point out how her Saskatchewan roots have led to her successes.
“My time growing up in Saskatchewan has actually shaped me a lot as a coach and it’s definitely helped me take pride in the little things that matter in coaching,” Campbell shared. “There’s something different about Saskatchewan, the people take appreciation in the smaller things. Growing up in a community that cared for each other. Small sports communities where just everybody rallied behind each other and every success story felt like a celebration of that.”
“So for me to carry this torch as a representation of Saskatchewan, there’s many coaches that instilled this confidence in me and allowed me to realize this dream. Just knowing I was a young girl walking into a locker room of boy, just knowing my place had value that came from my coaches. I’ve definitely carried that to this moment today,” she added.
For Shirley, those important roots will never be forgotten.
“I remember growing up in Saskatchewan and playing in all those cold rinks and you know playing on the boys teams,” she recalled.
“It’s nice to be a little bit of a role model for girls in Saskatchewan now.”
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