MINNEAPOLIS — Generally speaking, college hockey coaches encourage their players to go with substance over flash. A simple shot on goal that slips past the goalie is always better than a fancy play that may or may not succeed.
With his team locked in a shootout versus its nemesis on Saturday, Nov. 2, and a packed house cheering them on, Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey coach Brad Frost took a different approach, and encouraged some on-ice flair. The result not only won the shootout, it made an instant star out of forward Amy Potomak, and propelled the Gophers to the top of the national polls.
“I saw my brothers do it when I was little and it was something I always tried,” Potmmak said. “I didn’t think I’d ever try it on a big stage, especially against a team like Wisconsin. Actually, Frosty was the one who suggested I give it a try, so I do as I’m told.”
Potomak’s shootout goal versus Wisconsin goalie Kristen Campbell featured the sophomore from Aldergrove, B.C., skating hard to the front of the net, pulling the puck back between her legs as she moved to the left of the net, then flipping a between-the-skates shot back to the right and beyond Campbell’s reach.
“She works on her hands every day. That’s one of the things she’s known for is her ability to do certain things with the puck because of her hands,” said Frost, who called the move “unstoppable” if the goalie doesn’t know it’s coming. “In practice I’ve seen her do that move, and in a shootout I’ve seen her do it full speed. I knew she could do it. She knew she could do it.”
While the jubilation on the ice and in the stands died down within a few minutes, the national ovation was just beginning. By Sunday evening, ESPN hockey guy John Buccigross had traded tweets with Frost and posted video of the goal, insisting that Potomak’s feat be the top play of the day that night on SportsCenter. It was, but Potomak missed it.
“I saw some tweets on that,” Potomak said. “We don’t have cable at our house, so I didn’t see it live.”
For Gophers men, faceoffs in focus
Unlike basketball, football or baseball, where each team takes turns with possession, hockey is a game where you need to win possession of the puck at the start of a period and every time there is a stoppage of play.
Trying to rally versus Notre Dame on Saturday while trailing by a goal, the Gophers men were doomed by their inability to get possession of the puck off the faceoff, and that has been a point of emphasis in practice this week. The tactics used to increase the team’s chances of winning a faceoff are wide-ranging.
“It’s actually everything. It’s breaking it down on film, having the guys watch film. Some of our guys were trying the same thing, so it’s giving them new things to try,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, after the stat sheet said that the Irish won 41 of the 59 faceoffs on Saturday. “It was all hands on deck. Maybe we’re just a tad late getting at it. We were going OK at it and then we met our match, so it’s a good lesson for us. We’re trying a handful of different things with all of our guys.”
The faceoff struggles started right away last weekend, with Notre Dame winning 15 of the first 18 draws on Friday night. The problems that caused came into stark focus in the third period on Saturday, when the Gophers managed just two shots on goal in the final period of a 5-3 loss.
“Faceoffs are a big part of it. We want to start with the puck. We don’t want to be chasing it,” Gophers junior forward Brannon McManus said. “It’s not just on the centers, it’s on everyone. We’ve got to give us a chance. Obviously Notre Dame was really good, so that’s a big point of emphasis this week.”