U.S. National Team player Jenny Potter will be a little more cautious the second time around.
The veteran of eight Olympic and World Championship teams learned after giving birth to her first child in January 2001 that it takes time to get back into competitive shape.
Potter had her second child Jan. 8 and took six weeks off completely from training. Then she started running and skating and just now, as she prepares for the 2007 World Championship April 3-10 in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba, is she starting to return to full speed.
“I played up until my fifth month,” she said of her most recent pregnancy during a conference call Wednesday with Mark Johnson, coach of the U.S. Nattional Team and two-time defending NCAA champion Wisconsin, and Erika Lawler, one of four players selected from the championship team. On Tuesday, USA Hockey named 18 forwards and defensemen and three goaltenders to the team. although one netminder will be cut Friday since international rules only permit a team to bring two.
“Now I have to take it one day at a time,” said Potter. “After the first birth I tried to do too much. This time I just tried to stay in shape until I came back here.”
“With six weeks (off), it’s hard to remain an elite athlete,” she said. “That was trying for me.”
But it was the right course.
“I did a better job this time,” she said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve been bringing my game back to the highest level. I’m a self-motivated person. It doesn’t take a lot to get me on the ice.”
For two weeks, just before the current training session, she played with the Minnesota Whitecaps of the WWHL but admitted she was tired and some days “felt awful. I could play but my legs weren’t there. I was off balance,” Potter said.” But I’ve improved a ton in two weeks. I’m here now. I’ve moved on.”
The team has just completed a four-day training camp at Grand Forks, N.D., where the roster was whittled down. They will play several exhibition games against Sweden, the team that eliminated them from the 2006 Olympics, before facing the two other teams in their group, Kazakhstan April 3 in Selkirk and China two days later. Both games are at 7:30 p.m. If they win the group they will advance to the group playoff round. The medal games are set for April 10.
The exhibition games will give the coaching staff opportunities to evaluate players and give the players the chance to play in real competition, Johnson said.
“Everything has gone smoothly,” Potter said. “I’m not at the top of my form yet, but pretty close.”
Just recently she played with other athlete on her hometown rink where her husband, Rob Potter, is a fitness coach for youth hockey teams.
Johnson said he has been very impressed with Potter’s play so far. He said he saw her after the birth of her son and he could see a “twinkle in her eye and a readiness” to get back in training.
“As each day goes by, she feels more comfortable,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with what she has been able to do here in the first seven and eight days.”
But like Potter, he knows patience is a virtue and that she has to take it step by step to get back at her former competitive level.
Potter has 58 points in world play, 19 more points than Angela Ruggiero, also on the 2007 team, who has 39 points in nine Olympic and World Championships.
In the 2005 World Championship, which the U.S. won, she had six points. At the Torino Winter Games in 2006, she had nine.
Lawler said she hopes she can continue to contribute to winning championships as she has at Wisconsin. She said the transition from college to international play has been interesting, especially since she has to join a whole new team. “We have to find comfort a zone with everyone, to feel [we] belong here, but the veterans really have made us feel welcome and comfortable.”
She said one of the things she’s noticed in play is that she has to make decisions about moving the puck more quickly than she did in college. “I’m happy winning,” Lawler said. “I hope the streak will continue.”
“We have a great core of players coming back from the 2005 World Championship team,” said Johnson, “and a lot of younger players.” Seven players are back from that team and 10 of the 18 players already chosen are Olympians.
Johnson said one of the keys to success is for the younger players to feel relaxed and comfortable around the veterans. “It can be intimidating off and on the ice,” he said, referring to incidents when young players are skating with older women who they have grown up emulating.
“The big thing is to get everyone comfortable. It’s tough to find cohesiveness in such a short period of time,” Johnson said.
He also said he’s glad the World Championship is in Canada because it will add a little juice to the U.S.-Canadian rivalry.
“Having it in Canada makes it special,” he said. The crowds will be huge and that creates an environment that’s special for the players no matter what flag they fly.”
Potter has more of a motive to the Canadian angle. It was depressing after the U.S. lost in Torino and never got a chance to play Canada, which won the Gold Medal, she said. “It was hard to come back home with a Bronze but most teams come back with none so it was better than no medal.”
She said in retrospect, she thinks the U.S. would have beaten Canada in the Gold Medal game.
“We would have given them a run for their money and beaten them but that’s irrelevant … that’s the way the chips fell,” Potter said. “What’s past is past and we’re moving forward.”
“We have a great opportunity to defend our World Cup and to also beat Canada in their home country and in front of their fans,” she said. “That’s enough of an incentive for any player.”