Potter’s induction to hall a UMD breakthrough

John Gilbert

There may never be another Jenny Potter in the UMD women’s hockey program. That is not to diminish the talent of any Bulldogs, current or future, but because Potter was installed this week into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, it is time to go back into the ol’ time capsule and take another look at the incredible achievements of Potter and her teammates, and the UMD Bulldogs, in the formative years of women’s hockey in the U.S.

Potter was inducted along with Dean Blais, former International Falls and Gophers hockey star who played some pro hockey before turning to coaching, where he has an enviable record at North Dakota, at Roseau High School, and at Nebraska-Omaha; Jerry York, who is still coaching at Boston College and owns the record for most victories by a college coach; and Tony Granato, former Wisconsin star who went on into the NHL before starting a coaching career that currently has him guiding the Wisconsin Badgers.

All worthy recipients, but Potter is the most intriguing story.

The information claims that Jenny Schmidgall was a star at Edina High School, which, of course, is wrong, because there was no high school hockey when Jenny came through, skating with her dad, Duane Schmidgall, at neighborhood rinks growing up, and playing on boys youth teams. She got the chance to play at the University of Minnesota, but after one season, she decided she had to make a move, and that move was to UMD.

“Going to Duluth prepared me for life,” she said, during a closed press conference by USA Hockey to commemorate the Hall of Fame inductees. “It was exactly what I needed — a small college, not that far from home, and they were going to play in the WCHA which was, and still is, the best league in women’s college hockey.”

When she transferred to UMD, Jenny Schmidgall was severely criticized by Ben Smith, the Olympic coach, who reamed her pretty well for leaving Minnesota for such a renegade program, coached by Canadian Shannon Miller, Canada’s Olympic coach in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, in which the U.S. upset Canada for the first women’s Olympic gold. Jenny was a star on that team, and came back to UMD instead of to Minnesota.

Her first year at UMD was also UMD’s first year with a Division 1 women’s hockey program, playing in the first Women’s WCHA season, and the Bulldogs went 21-1-2 to win the championship. Jenny Schmidgall, a compactly built speedster zig-zagged through opposing teams to score 41 goals, 52 assists for 93 points — all team-high figures.

Her second season didn’t come until 2002-03, after leaving school to play for Team USA again.  In her absence, the NCAA decided to take a chance and hold its first national tournament, and the Bulldogs won it. They also won the second NCAA national championship. When she returned, UMD claimed its third straight NCAA title, and Jenny, who had married Rob Potter by then and became a mother, scored 31-57—88 to lead the Bulldogs to a thrilling 4-3 double-overtime title victory over Harvard, right here at the DECC.

“When I came back and we won that NCAA championship right in Duluth, I think it springboards the growth of women’s ice hockey,” Potter said, calling that game, which drew a sellout crowd to the DECC, one of her biggest thrills in the game.
In her final season, 2003-04, Potter scored 36-39—75. The three-year total of 108 goals, 148 assists, for 256 points, came in only 102 games, and makes her UMD’s all-time leading scorer. Teammate Maria Rooth, from Sweden, who tops Jenny’s goal total 119 to 108, did it in 124 games, over four years, and she stands second in total points, 119-112—232. Caroline Oullette, from Canada, who was a freshman in Potter’s senior season, is third at 92-137—229 in 97 games.

In Potter’s three seasons at UMD, the Bulldogs were 76-20-7 overall, and 57-11-4 in WCHA games only. When her college career ended, she kept on playing and scoring for U.S. national and Olympic teams, but even though she is the prototype lynchpin for women’s hockey, nobody at USA Hockey had ever publicly said a kind word about her, or about UMD. That’s what made this honor a major surprise and a breakthrough for the program that dominated the first decade of women’s college hockey as Shannon Miller led UMD to five NCAA titles.

Curiously, the jerseys of Rooth and Ouellette are hanging from the AMSOIL Arena rafters, but Potter has somehow avoided such glory. Maybe now, with a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame place in history, the sleepy UMD administration might get the hint.

Crazy day with TV

Last Sunday was one of those days when a diligent sports fan could make himself dizzy with trying to keep up. Just after midnight Sunday morning, I awoke from my favorite chair to turn off the television, but before I did, I spotted a replay of the U.S. Open women’s tennis final, where Naomi Osaka, who had lost the first set 6-1, was in the process of winning the second set 6-1, and then nearly blew the third set before winning 6-3 to claim here second championship in three years.

The men’s final, usually required viewing at our house, never even got on the set because of all the events. When I later found out that Dominic Thiem lost 6-2 and 6-4 to Alexander Zverev in the first two sets, it was astounding to realize Thiem became the first player in U.S. Open history to come back from 0-2 to win the title, beating Zverev 6-4, 6-3 to tie the match, then winning a fifth-set tiebreaker 7-6 (6) for the crown.

I slept well, but too briefly, then I woke up just in time to see the Tuscany Grand Prix Formula 1 race, where a crash right at the start knocked out last week’s winner, Pierre Grasly, and family favorite Max Verstappen. It took seven laps to clean up the mess, then they got a restart, and immediately a massive crash at the start knocked out several more. Lewis Hamilton came back to beat teammate Vallerie Bottas with Alex Albom third. In the post-race interviews, Hamilton wore a black tee-shirt with something written in large, bold white letters. It read: “:Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” She is the black woman who was killed in a hail of bullets by plain-clothes police who used a battering ram to break into her apartment — the wrong one — and shot her multiple times as she got out of bed. No arrests have been made, but the resonating theme around the world is for Blacks to demand justice. Quite a bold move by Hamilton.

Just enough time after the race for a great breakfast, thanks to my wife, Joan, and her understanding nature, and then it was time for the Vikings-Packers game. Aaron Rodgers took the Packers down the field but stalled and settled for a field goal. Kirk Cousins took the Vikings right down the field for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead, and it looked like it might live up to expectations. It looked more that way when the Vikings defense stopped the Packers on fourth and goal from the 1. Now it was time for Cousins to give the ball to Dalvin Cook, the new millionaire running back, to get out of trouble, right? Wrong! Cousins faked the handoff to Cook, then sort of strolled back into the end zone and turned to look for a receiver. Instead, he caught a speeding Packers blitzer and was sacked for a safety, which closed the Vikings lead to 7-5.

Rodgers crafted a 22-7 halftime lead from there, and an interception and touchdown later made it 29-7. It ended 43-36 after the Vikings got a couple late touchdowns, and Rodgers rode out of town a winner.

I started switching long before the end, because the Twins game started against Cleveland, and  reserve catcher Ryan Jeffers socked a 2-run home run to break a 3-3 tie, and Josh Donaldson hit a first-pitcher homer to make it 6-3, en route to a 7-5 victory and a sweep of the series that probably knocked the Indians out of contention.

About then, I checked on some of my other NFL favorites and found that Seattle’s Russell Wilson — the best quarterback in the whole NFL, in my opinion — had gone 30-34 passing for 319 yards and four touchdowns at Atlanta. Another big one was Detroit, where I predicted the presence of Adrian Peterson would make Matthew Stafford an even better quarterback, faced Chicago, where I was pleased Mitch Trubisky was getting the chance to start. He looked shaky for three quarters, then caught fire for three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and a 27-23 Bears lead. But Stafford brought Detroit down the field one last time, and threw a perfect pass to a rookie running back, all alone in the end zone, and the poor guy dropped the pass! Bears win 27-23, although Peterson ran 14 times for 93 yards, and the Lions face the Packers this weekend.

I kept switching back and forth to also keep tabs on the East Division final series where the New York Islanders — my pick — and the potent Tampa Bay Lighting were scoreless past the midway point in the second period. Then Brock Nelson, of Warroad, scored a great goal for the Islanders at 11:27 for a 1-0 lead. But 15 seconds later, Blake Coleman broke in alone and tied it for the Lightning. And 12 seconds after that, Ondrej Palat scored again for Tampa Bay. Three goals in 27 seconds, and another goal and an empty-netter gave the Lightning a 4-1 victory and the lead in the series, three games to one.

That left the Islanders facing elimination Tuesday night, and I was left to pull for the Islanders, just because we want more hockey! The other series ended when the Dallas Stars knocked out No. 1 seed Vegas 3-2 in overtime when Deniw Gurianov scored on a power play. The Stars had trailed 2-0 in the game before rallying for the tie, and then the victory. I felt awful for Zach Whitecloud — who played his college hockey at Bemidji State — tried to clear the puck. As he flipped it, the puck tilted on edge, and he inadvertently cleared the plexiglass. The refs game him a delay of game penalty, and that’s when the power-play winner was scored. Awful way to end your season.