When it came time to choose a college, Amy Potomak didn’t rush herself. The prized recruit from British Columbia checked out several possibilities, looking for the school and hockey program that would fit just right.
Only the Gophers, though, could offer her the most alluring item on her wish list: a chance to play with her older sister, Sarah. The Potomak siblings will wrap up their first season together at the U at this weekend’s Frozen Four in Hamden, Conn., starting with Friday’s NCAA semifinal against Cornell. After spending most of their hockey careers on separate teams, the two are now teammates, roommates and linemates, as the No. 2 Gophers chase their seventh NCAA championship and first since 2016.
Sarah, a redshirt junior, and Amy, a redshirt freshman, recently were reunited with center Kelly Pannek on the “Pots and Pan” line. Gophers coach Brad Frost said his team will be counting on that trio at the Frozen Four. In last weekend’s 5-2 victory over Princeton in the NCAA quarterfinals, the line combined for four goals and five assists, with Pannek potting the winner.
Save for a few games with Canada’s national teams, the only time the Potomaks have played on the same line was in the ball-hockey games they played as kids. In those days, they used to imagine having a season like this, complete with the championship ending they hope to add.
“We always dreamed of playing hockey together at university and on the national team,” said Sarah, who has six goals and 10 assists in the past 10 games. “Now that it’s a reality, it’s pretty special.
“This year is the first time we’ve really been able to practice together and develop together. … Our growth from the first game to now has been amazing, so we’re really excited to see where we go from here.”
So is Frost. He tried the Potomaks with Pannek early in the season, then split up the line before reassembling it in late January. Their complementary skills have brought out the best in each other as the Gophers reached the Frozen Four for the 14th time.
“They were OK, but they weren’t as good as we wanted them to be,” Frost said of the first incarnation of the Pots and Pan line. “We knew eventually we would need to put them back together in order for our team to make a run at it. They’ve been great ever since [the reunion].”
The Potomaks grew up in Aldergrove, B.C., as the little sisters behind four hockey-playing brothers. Born 18 months apart, their ages usually relegated them to different teams, except when Amy played up a level during the spring season.
Amy joked that being the family’s only girls “forces you to be close, just to survive.” But their lifelong bond goes deeper than that. The sisters have similar personalities, including a slightly off-kilter sense of humor, and always wanted to do everything together.
They are not the same on the ice. While Sarah is agile and quick, with great vision and shooting touch, Amy is bigger and stronger — at 5-9, she is 4 inches taller than her sister — and can take the puck to the net.
Amy, 19, is tied for fourth on the team with 31 points in her first college season. Sarah, 21, the national rookie of the year in 2016 and a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2017, has 132 career points in 107 games. As a freshman at the 2016 Frozen Four, Sarah scored the overtime game-winner against Wisconsin, sending the Gophers to the championship game.
“They’re sisters through and through,” Pannek said. “They are the biggest supporters of each other, and also the people who hold each other accountable the most. It’s kind of a fun dynamic to see.”
The Potomaks weathered disappointment last season, when they fell short in their bid to become the first sisters to make Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team. The youngest members of the initial player pool, they lived and trained with the group in Calgary for several months in 2017.
Amy was cut in November. Sarah, who took a leave from the Gophers to try to make the team, was among the last cuts a month later. While Sarah said both of them were crushed, their spirits were lifted by looking ahead to their first college season together.
Years ago, Amy recalled, the sisters shared a couple of tiny trophies when they were just learning the game. The prize at stake this weekend will be much larger, though it won’t feel that way if both of them are lifting it.
“To have a chance to do this on a bigger stage, and not just in Atom or Pee Wee hockey, it’s something we’ve dreamed of since we were so little,” she said. “I can’t even explain what it would be like to win this together.’’