Sarah Potomak kept faith she could wear the Maple Leaf again, despite feeling the uncertainty that comes with rejection.
The 24-year-old forward from Aldergrove, B.C., will play for Canada in the women’s world hockey championship Aug. 25 to Sept. 4 in Herning and Frederikshavn, Denmark.
When Potomak made her world championship debut in 2017 in Plymouth, Mich., Canada’s youngest player at 19 scored twice and assisted on another goal in five games.
She was also the first B.C. player in two decades to play in the tournament after goaltender Danielle Dube in 1997.
Potomak (pronounced POT-oh-mack) returns to the world championship after a five-year interval.
She was invited to try out for the 2018 Olympic team, but was released from the squad.
After a knee injury kept her out of the Four Nations Cup in 2018, Potomak’s name was absent from international tournament rosters until Monday.
“It’s been a really long journey for me and a lot of ups and downs, and then going through COVID and cancellations and all that,” Potomak told The Canadian Press. “For me to be able to finally make that team just feels really, really good.
“After 2018, being cut, and just kind of continuing to be cut, just kept picking myself back up.”
Three veteran forwards from Canada’s 2022 Olympic team — Natalie Spooner, Melodie Daoust, Rebecca Johnston — opting out of selection camp created job opportunity up front.
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Competition remained stiff to make the Denmark lineup, however, at a massive 142-player Calgary camp from which world championship, development, and under-18 teams were chosen.
Sarah and younger sister Amy became the first sisters to suit up for Canada together during a two-game series with the U.S. in 2016.
Amy, 23, was selected for Canada’s developmental team playing a three-game set starting Wednesday against U.S. counterparts in Calgary.
An assistant coach of the 2018 Olympic team, Canada’s head coach Troy Ryan was familiar with Sarah Potomak’s quick hands and abrasive game.
He delivered welcome news to her on the final day of selection camp.
“I was one of the last forwards of the whole group to be called in so I was super-anxious and just sick,” Potomak said.
“Troy told me congratulations. I couldn’t really speak. I was pretty emotional. To be able to walk into a room full of teammates was pretty special.”
Said Ryan: “She’s been released a lot the last few years. What happens when a player is released is they actually don’t ever know how close they were.
“I needed to tell her how close many times that she was. We felt the way she came and competed at camp, now is a good opportunity for her to get that chance.”
A Minnesota Golden Gophers standout, Potomak was about to lead the No. 4 seed into the 2020 women’s Frozen Four. She’d topped the team in scoring in her senior year with 19 goals and 27 assists in 36 games.
The NCAA tournament was abruptly called off two days before puck drop as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The curtailing of Canada’s camps and the dearth of any women’s games — international or otherwise — for months hampered Potomak’s ability to move up Canada’s depth chart and tested her confidence.
“There were some days (that) were really, really hard,” Potomak said. “It was just leaning on the ones that mean the most to me, like my family… the more I did that, the more they kind of leaned into me and just kept kind of building me up as well.
“The more that I got out there playing hockey and just falling back in love with hockey to be honest, because after 2018 it was pretty rough and even a bit of college was rough too, for me just to fall in love with hockey again, that’s when I’m having fun, like any player can attest to, that’s when you’re playing your best game.”
Now an assistant coach of Trinity Western University’s women — Amy will also play for the Spartans this season after four years with Minnesota — Sarah says she’s a fitter player than she was in 2017.
“Fitness testing scores have gone up drastically since 2017 and that helps me on the ice be stronger, faster, quicker,” she said. “I still have a really good offensive side, but I can play basically any role they want me to play.”
Canada meets host Denmark on Saturday and the United States next Tuesday in pre-tournament games before opening the championship Aug. 25 against Finland in Herning.
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