Minor hockey players across the country are about to start evaluations.
They’re tough, stressful and, sometimes, they don’t end the way we want.
So most Canadians can empathize with someone like Sarah Potomak, who was
released from a team in December 2017. The major difference here is that
Potomak was the last forward cut from the 2018 Women’s Olympic Team, a
crushing blow for a player who worked her life to get to that stage and
ultimately fell just short.
For some, that moment could have been the end, but Potomak kept grinding,
working, fighting and – almost four years later – is once again wearing the
Maple Leaf as part of Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Women’s
“It feels amazing. It’s been quite of a long journey for me with a lot of
ups and downs and stuff. But it feels good to finally be on this roster and
I’m excited to get things going,” says Potomak, who is helping defend its
world title in Denmark. “There were obviously some harder days than most,
but I just believed in myself on what I could offer to this team. I kept
sticking with it. I still love hockey and the motivation was always there.
Obviously, when disappointments keep coming up, you kind of question
yourself. But I just stuck to what I believe in and leaned on those who are
close to me and ended up being able to do, which feels pretty awesome.”
The last time Potomak wore the Canadian jersey at women’s worlds was in
2017 in Plymouth, Mich., where she scored twice and added an assist as
Canada won the silver medal. Her last international appearance came with
Canada’s National Women’s Development Team in a three-game series against
the U.S. in August 2018.
The path to get back on the world stage has wound several ways for the
Aldergrove, B.C., product. In 2019-20, she concluded a four-year career at
the University of Minnesota where, as a Golden Gopher, she put up 65 goals
and 114 assists in 145 career games.
Potomak planned to stick around her alma mater to continue her education,
with long-term plans on becoming an elementary school teacher. But the
COVID-19 pandemic brought her back home to British Columbia, where she
landed an assistant coaching job with the women’s hockey team at Trinity
Western University (TWU) prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. The
Spartans had recently just received U SPORTS status and were in the midst
of building their program. Potomak also had the chance to continue her
education at TWU.
Jean LaForest, a long-time coach in the junior, professional and university
ranks since the early 1990s, heard of Potomak when discussing potential
coaches to join his staff and, after a few conversations, he knew the fit
would be a good one.
Potomak got to work for that inaugural Spartans’ season and hasn’t looked
back, becoming a trusted and integral part of the coaching staff.
“It became really apparent for me that, though really young in terms of
coaching, Sarah was extremely mature in terms of her approach. It was a
benefit to me,” says LaForest. “I’m in the latter parts of my career. It’s
been about 30 years that I have been coaching hockey and it was really nice
to see because I was learning some things myself. She said to me one day
‘I’m learning a lot’ and I said ‘Well, that’s two of us because I’m
learning a lot, too,’ To have someone of Sarah’s character and perspective
on the game, it really helped.”
Potomak was a unique assistant coach from the start. Her playing career was
not done and she continued to have goals and aspirations with Team Canada,
including competing at women’s worlds and Olympics. So, rather than just
putting on a helmet, skates and gloves for team practices, Potomak took
part in practices wearing full gear, often taking part in all of the
That, says LaForest, was a real benefit not only for Potomak in keeping in
tip-top shape, but also for members of the Spartans.
“We talked about that. She still had aspirations and goals on wanting to
continue. She did face some challenges,” says LaForest. “In all my years, I
have not encountered (an assistant coach taking part in the drills). It did
benefit her by keeping her fresh, by training on a regular basis. But it
really had an impact on our product on the ice, when I was looking at pace
of practice, when I’m looking at when our players are watching her perform,
it was an absolute huge resource for the development of our program and
where we are right now. We are ahead of the curve in terms of where we
thought we’d be from a program perspective just in terms of player
LaForest says the TWU program, not just the hockey team but the entire
athletic program, tells their student athletes about ‘complete champions.’
It’s a term that entails academic success, athletic success, personal
development and progression of faith. He says that Potomak embodies all of
that better than anyone.
“She carried a full academic load, played in the Professional Women’s
Hockey Players Association and coached full time. That was a lot on
someone’s plate and she hit the ball out of the park in all three areas,”
he says. “You talk about someone who has so much potential, someone who is
driven and excels under pressure and really gets the most out of what she
has and gives 100% of what she has … I wish I would have had the
opportunity to coach her as a player.”
The road has been long and tough at times. And though this is an incredible
accomplishment for a player who could have been down and out five years
ago, Potomak isn’t just happy to be here. She is in Denmark with a focus to
have a significant impact on the team and keep working and grinding with
larger dreams in mind.
You see, 2026 isn’t that far off.
“I’m still really focused on going to the 2026 Olympics. That’s where my
mind is at,” says Potomak. “It’s a year-by-year process and it’s a long
journey to get to the Olympics but I’m willing to work for it. To be able
to make this step for this world championship is pretty huge. It’s added
motivation to keep going and keep living my dream.”