The first week of September was a whirlwind for Sarah Potomak. Just two days after winning gold with Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, she found herself back home in British Columbia, sharing her medal with family, friends, and another important team in her life—the Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans.
“It’s been really busy, but it’s been really awesome,” said Potomak. “To be able to share it with my family, they’re the reason that I am where I am, and they support me in every way possible. It just feels really nice to be able to bring something like that home, and to the girls that I coach and all the people that have supported me.”
Compared to her teammates, Potomak’s journey over the last year has been somewhat unique. She is one of five players from Canada’s World Championship team who didn’t play in Beijing, and is the only player who wasn’t named to Canada’s centralization roster for the 2021-22 season ahead of the Olympics. Instead, 2021-22 was Potomak’s second season as an assistant coach with the TWU women’s ice hockey team, a program that joined U Sports (Canada’s top level of university competition) in 2020-21.
“The job was just a really cool opportunity that kind of allowed me to also keep playing and training with the girls,” said Potomak. “[TWU head coach Jean Laforest] is super supportive of my hockey aspirations, so it obviously was just the right fit. To be able to come back home and be with my family also played a role.”
TWU had been interested in recruiting Potomak for a while, but after an impressive NCAA career with the University of Minnesota, Potomak’s original plan was to stay at her alma mater to complete a Masters degree. However, when she returned to Canada at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, she resumed conversations with TWU—and liked what they had to offer.
“I just really enjoy coaching and being out there with the girls. During Covid it was hard, but I was able to have this team, and that was also special for me too,” said Potomak. “Pretty much every practice I’d go in full gear and coach and skate at the same time. Honestly I find it actually easier to teach, just kind of leading by example in a way.”
“Obviously not every day was easy,” Potomak said of the last five years. "There was probably honestly more hard days than there were great days, and I just kind of leaned on my family. When I got opportunities to play with the PWHPA in showcases, I just wanted to show what I had. I always believed, I guess, in myself.”
In July, Potomak and her sister Amy were among the 142 players invited to Hockey Canada’s selection camp, which kicked off a new Olympic cycle and helped determine the rosters for Canada’s senior, U18, and development national teams.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t think that I was going to make the team,” said Potomak. “But then to be able to hear Troy [Ryan] and Gina [Kingsbury] congratulate me was pretty special.”
Potomak finished the 2022 World Championship with two goals (including a highlight reel beauty against Sweden) and four assists. Her +9 was second highest on the Canadian team after Meaghan Mikkelson (+10). She spent the preliminary round on the second line with Canada’s leading scorer, Sarah Fillier, and World Championship rookie Jessie Eldridge, but once playoffs hit, Potomak started to get moved around the line-up.
“Going into it I just knew whatever role I was put in, I was just going to try and play that role to the best of my ability and do whatever I could to help the team. I was kind of all over the map. I was the second line, then I was the thirteenth forward, then I got moved to the first line, and so I just tried to take it day by day, game by game.”
Her semi-final and gold medal line mates were Brianne Jenner and Marie-Philip Poulin. Potomak can remember watching Poulin score two goals en route to winning gold at the 2010 Olympics, which were hosted in Potomak’s home province when she was 12 years old.
“Poulin especially, I grew up watching her, and she’s probably one of the best captains that I’ve ever had. Jenner is also just a great leader, great hockey player, and so to be able to play with them was special and really fun,” said Potomak. “Whenever I play with them they’re always encouraging me. We just all wanted to have fun, and I think just playing loose and having fun was what led to a lot of our success.”
So how is the 2022 Potomak different than the 2017 Potomak? After five years of persistence and hard work, she says that a lot of it has to do with confidence.
“I think that honestly one difference in my performance from 2017 to 2022 was just being more confident in my play and believing in what I had to bring to the team.”
Coaching with TWU has elevated her play as well. While she’s always been a forward, Potomak spent last season coaching TWU’s defence.
“It was definitely a new role. I’ve been a forward my whole life, so switching to defence, it was just a great learning thing for me,” said Potomak. “I feel like I’ve been able to see the game from a different perspective and it’s honestly helped grow my hockey IQ.”
Potomak is now entering her third season as an assistant coach—this time working with TWU’s forwards—and upon returning to Canada was thrown right into the 2022-23 season, bringing her gold medal to the team’s media day. She is by no means done with the national team either—Potomak is still dreaming of the Olympics.
“I know I’m not going to be able to play hockey forever and so making the most of every day is kind of something that I look at. At the end of the day, when I hang up the skates, I want to be able to look back and know that I did absolutely everything I could to be the best player that I could be, and making this team was really encouraging for me. I still have my sights set on the next Olympics, so I’m just going to continue to work towards that.”