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What P.J. Fleck could learn from the Gopher women’s hockey team

If you want ESPN’s attention, skip the talk. Give them something they can’t ignore — like what Gopher women’s hockey player Amy Potomak did with her Magical Mystery Goal. 

Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck
Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/University of Minnesota

Last week Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck spent more than three minutes at a press conference lobbying ESPN to bring its popular College GameDay telecast to Dinkytown for Saturday’s Gophers-Penn State game. It failed because ESPN runs a business, not a charity. Sorry to break this to Gopher fans, but few outside of Minnesota and western Pennsylvania care about this game. And how do you pass up No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama? You don’t. Ratings matter.

Here’s a tip: If you want ESPN’s attention, skip the talk. Give them a visual, something so spectacular they can’t ignore it. Which brings us to Amy Potomak and the Magical Mystery Goal.

Potomak is a gifted sophomore right wing for the Gopher women’s hockey team, the younger sister of teammate Sarah Potomak, a senior left wing. They’re Canadian, from British Columbia. Last season the Potomaks teamed with then-senior Kelly Pannek on the dynamic and aptly-named Pots and Pan Line. You may see one or both Potomaks skating for Team Canada at the next Winter Olympics.

Last Sunday, Amy Potomak stole a shootout victory over arch-rival Wisconsin with a show-stopping, between-the-legs wrist shot that has to be seen to be believed. ESPN ranked the goal its No. 1 Play of the Day for Nov. 3. (Please excuse the narrator for mangling Potomak’s last name. For the record, it’s POT-uh-mack, not Po-TOW-mick.)

The Magical piece was the execution. Potomak skated in slowly and drew Badgers goaltender Kirsten Campbell toward the left post before quickly sliding the puck and her stick back between her legs. The Mystery was how she pulled it off without tripping herself. Toss a puck on the carpet and try it some time.

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Potomak said she learned the move from her older brother Brandon, and practices it on Thursdays when the Gophers do shootout drills. The move itself has been around awhile, its origin unclear. William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights potted a shorthanded game-winner that way on March 31, 2018, skating in from the left instead of the right.

She first broke it out more than two years ago, on a breakaway in a Canadian junior hockey game. Her former team, Pacific Steelers, happily unearthed the video. Same result, too. 

“I’ve seen her do it, not hundreds of times, but tens of times full speed in practice,” Gophers Coach Brad Frost said. “Not just in a shootout, but in a regular drill, or if she gets in tight or somebody’s on her.”

Amy Potomak
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/University of Minnesota
Amy Potomak said she learned the move from her older brother Brandon, and practices it on Thursdays when the Gophers do shootout drills.
That Potomak pulled it off against Wisconsin heightened the significance. Any game between the Gophers and the Badgers is a big deal, part of their annual tangle for Western Collegiate Hockey Association dominance and ultimately the national championship. Eleven of the last 16 NCAA titles have gone to one or the other, the Gophs winning six (four in five years from 2012-16) and the Badgers five. Wisconsin came into the weekend ranked No. 1 and the Gophers No. 2 in both national polls.

Amy Potomak
Amy Potomak
Wisconsin notched its most recent NCAA title last season, Campbell shutting out Minnesota 2-0 in the final to earn the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player award. So this season’s first Border Battle series, at Ridder Arena, featured extra juice on the Minnesota side.

“We only have four new freshman, so our team is mostly everyone from last year,” Amy Potomak said. “Everyone definitely remembers that.”

Minnesota won Friday’s opener, 4-2. Saturday’s game stood 2-2 after two five-minute overtimes, bringing on a three-round shootout to decide things. Technically, any game tied after the first overtime goes down as a tie, worth two points in the standings. But in conference play the WCHA allows teams to go to a second OT and, if necessary, a shootout to determine a winner. Wins count for three points, and that additional point can be critical in determining postseason tournament seeding. 

So on it went. No one scored in the second OT. Neither scored in the first shootout round. Frost called on Potomak to go next, specifically requesting the between-the-legs number. 

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“I told her to do it, but I didn’t teach her how to do it, I’ll tell you that,” Frost said. “I just had a feeling if she did it that it would be really hard to stop because nobody would see it coming, especially when you can pull the goalie to your backhand like that and get the puck back to your forehand. Happy, obviously, that she could pull it off, but I’ve seen her do it and had a lot of confidence that it would work.”

Sarah Potomak
Sarah Potomak
Said Potomak: “Frostie and Bethany (assistant coach Bethany Brausen) both looked at me and kind of believed in me that I could do it. My confidence rose a little bit there. I remember thinking, like, `Man, what if I do score this?’ rather than thinking, `What if I miss?’ I think that was what made the difference there.”

After Potomak scored, Wisconsin had a chance for the equalizer. Abby Roque missed the net on her attempt, clinching it for the Gophers. Minutes after 3-2 victory, the Gopher women’s hockey Twitter account tweeted video of the goal. 

“After the game, we were like, ‘We have to get this on SportsCenter,’” said Sarah Potomak. “We didn’t think anything would happen.”

Until it went viral. Amy Potomak picked up thousands of new Twitter and Instagram followers, along with instant free exposure for the 10-1-1 Gophers, who this week supplanted Wisconsin as No. 1 in both polls. 

“It was insane,” Sarah Potomak said. “I’m really proud and happy for her. I think she deserves that recognition. It was really cool. Not many people can do that.”

Not even a certain football coach.