Sarah and Amy Potomak both want the same thing, but this isn’t a sibling rivalry.
It’s quite the opposite, in fact; the sisters will do everything they can to help each other reach their singular shared goal – to represent Canada under
the brightest lights in women’s hockey.
Sarah got her first taste of the big time last fall when she made her debut with Canada’s National Women’s Team at the 2015 4 Nations Cup in Sweden, and
she’s back in Calgary this week attending Fall Festival for the third year in a row.
But this year is different, with her younger sister earning an invite to her first senior camp.
The Potomaks have become familiar faces at the home of Hockey Canada, with Sarah and Amy earning roster spots with Canada’s National Women’s Development
Team and Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, respectively, in each of the last two Augusts, but this is their first Team Canada camp together.
“I think [Summer Showcase] was really cool, but this is our ultimate goal, to play for the national team,” Sarah says. “I think the fact that we’re here
together makes it that much more special and that much more meaningful. We want it so bad that we push each other.”
And that’s how it has always been. Through the Aldergrove Minor Hockey Association, Burnaby Winter Club and Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy growing
up, whether they were teammates or opponents, the sisters have made each other better.
It doesn’t hurt that Sarah, 18, and Amy, 17, are the two youngest of six and the only girls in the Potomak clan, so sticking close and working together
came naturally as kids, out of survival if nothing else.
But while Sarah does admit that her brothers “tended to beat up on us sometimes when we were younger,” Amy says the family bond was built on the ice.
“All six of us are super close,” she says. “It was always just us, and all of us played hockey. Whenever we go out onto the ice at Christmastime, because
that’s when we’d all be home together, we’d play three-on-three.
“[Hockey} means everything. It’s what we grew up in. I don’t remember a time before hockey. It’s just something that we’ve all always done, and it’s
probably will always continue to do. It’s just part of the family.”
The Potomaks are a pretty impressive group. On top of the international exploits of Sarah and Amy, the four boys have their own noteworthy accomplishments
– Mark is an optometrist working in China; Matthew is completing law school; Devin, a nurse, recently married; and the youngest, Brandon, played parts of
five seasons for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League.
This week is about the sisters, though, and taking the next steps towards a future with Team Canada.
As the veteran, Sarah has been providing Amy with advice almost from the moment the two received the email inviting them to Fall Festival. But there’s only
so much the older sister can say.
“I try and help her as much as I can, trying to prepare her for this camp,” Sarah says. “But at the same time, I want her to make her own path and not just
be ‘Sarah’s sister’ or follow behind me. I want her to have her own career, her own personality. So I let her do her own thing.”
The sisters are on different teams at camp – Amy with Red and Sarah with White – which means different schedules, but they find time as often as possible
to get together, including a nightly coffee date.
With Amy home in B.C. playing with the Pacific Steelers and Sarah almost 3,000 kilometres away attending the University of Minnesota, time together is
limited, which makes a week in Calgary that much more special.
“She moved away from home quite early, and I ended up joining her [at Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna, B.C.], but for those couple years where she wasn’t
there, it was tough and hard to get used to,” Amy says.
“We didn’t see each other for quite a long time, so we’d Facetime each other all the time, and if she was doing homework and needed help with a question I
could lend her a hand, but it was quite the adjustment. But when we we’re playing together again, it’s right back to normal.”
Without looking too far into the future, the Potomaks have a couple chances at history; not only would they be the first sisters to play for Team Canada,
they could join a very select group from their home province.
Since the introduction of Canada’s National Women’s Team in 1990, only one B.C. native – goaltender Danielle Dubé in 1997 – has cracked the Canadian roster
for the IIHF Women’s World Championship, and Sarah joined Dubé last fall as the only British Columbians to play at the 4 Nations Cup.
But a little more West Coast company could be on the way; defenceman Micah Hart, from Saanichton, B.C., has joined the sisters at Fall Festival, and
blue-liner Olivia Knowles of Campbell River, B.C., has been a teammate of Amy with the U18 national team.
So what’s causing the sudden surge of B.C. success?
The Potomaks give credit to the provincial high-performance program; both have played for Team B.C. at multiple National Women’s Under-18 Championships,
and both brought home a little hardware – Sarah was Top Forward in 2012, while Amy earned Most Valuable Player honours last November.
“[B.C. Hockey is] starting to do things that Hockey Canada is doing,” Sarah says. “Things like fitness, and keeping in touch, and diet; when we go to our
camps, it’s almost exactly like these [Team Canada] camps.
“I think it’s just trying to get more girls more knowledge about training and how to get to the next level. Players like myself and my sister, Micah and
Olivia will be great role models for girls growing up.”
Lofty goals, to be sure, but with everything the Potomak sisters have done before the end of their teens, there likely aren’t many in the hockey world who
are going to doubt them.