Experience Is The Best Teacher

Olympian Jenny Potter Brings A Lifetime Of Knowledge And A Passion For The Game To Ohio State
Craig Merz

The response was a mixture of disbelief and joy when players on the Ohio State women’s hockey team learned the name of their new coach on April 12.

Jenny Potter. Yes, The Jenny Potter. Coming to The Ohio State University.

One of the most accomplished players in collegiate and USA Hockey history was now a Buckeye, charged with turning around a program that has had limited success in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

“Oh my gosh,” was the first reaction of senior Julia McKinnon. “I think a lot of us grew up idolizing her. We were star struck. Then it hit us that she’s coaching us.”

Added senior Melani Moylan, “What more could you ask for than have an Olympian as a coach?”

By the way, both McKinnon and Moylan are Canadians and yet their admiration for Potter transcends the fierce rivalry between the nations on the ice.

“If you look at what she’s done in the past, even being Canadian, I can learn so much from her,” McKinnon said.

Potter, 36, is on the fast track to success in her latest endeavor, just as she was as a 19-year-old gold medalist at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, some five years after she gave up football cleats for skates.

“I tell these kids that whatever you do you have to do it to the best of your ability and you’ll be successful, whether it’s the sport you choose, academically or professionally,” Potter said.

Potter comes to a program that was 17-16-3 last season after coaching two years at Division III Trinity (Connecticut) College. She led the Bantams to a 18-7-2 record last season and their first conference championship as well as the second NCAA Tournament berth in school history.

It hasn’t taken long for Potter to impress her new players in Columbus.

"We started from the basics and she went through everything,” Moylan said. “Coming from an Olympic background, she’s been through a lot in her life. You can totally tell by the way she communicates with us.”

Potter, a native of Eagan, Minn., played in three more Olympics after 1998—winning a bronze medal in 2006 and silver medals in 2002 and 2010. The latter came with University of Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson behind the bench.

He sees Potter's coaching career as an extension of her playing style.

“She’s extremely competitive. She’s driven,” Johnson said. “She’s very passionate about the game of hockey and certainly displayed that in the wonderful career that she had as a player.

“As she’s gotten into the coaching ranks she’s carried that along in her approach to the game and how she teaches the game. She certainly has a lot of things to fall back on to become a real solid coach.”

He’s not surprised that Potter’s players are in awe of her.

Jenny Potter credits her years with the U.S. Women's National and Olympic Teams for shaping her coaching philosophy.Jenny Potter credits her years with the U.S. Women's National and Olympic Teams for shaping her coaching philosophy.

“She’s had a huge impact obviously as an Olympic player and a national team player,” said Johnson, a star player in his own right. “She was also an outstanding college player [at Minnesota Duluth].

“To the young players, when you mention her name and some of the things she accomplished, it gets their attention fast. A lot of girls that got the chance to watch her play, whether it was the ’98 Olympics or the following couple of Olympics, probably said, ‘Hey, I’d like to wear that USA jersey one day and be like Jenny Potter.’ ”

Potter, whose maiden name is Schmidgall, credits her time in the U.S. National Team program for shaping her coaching philosophy. Although she did not want to single out any one mentor she said, “All the years I spent in USA Hockey I got to meet a lot of great people and work with a lot of great people from coaches to strength coaches to the equipment managers.”

She married Rob Potter in 2001 and together they run “Potter’s Pure Hockey” summer training camp in Minnesota. They’ve also coached high school hockey together.
They have a 14-year-old daughter, Madison, a competitive swimmer who hopes to make it to the Olympic trials next year, and a son, Cullen, who is 8.

“Hockey’s been a part of our life together,” Potter said. “It’s a sport but it’s also teaching life lessons through hockey. Whatever sport you choose you have to work hard and give it everything you’ve got. Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t but you find out a little bit about yourself in the process.”

It’s words such as those that have McKinnon excited to play for Potter.

“She breaks everything down,” she said. “She’s a very good teacher, let alone player. She’s into hard work. That’s one thing she’s pushed on our team.”

Potter is thankful that young players appreciate what she has given to the sport, and knows that she has a lot more to offer.

“We all like to say we want to make an impact in our life,” she said. “My biggest impact would be if the kids come back and say, ‘Wow, I really learned something when you spoke.’”

Johnson said he was looking forward to the first meeting between his Badgers and the Buckeyes this season (Oct. 10), knowing that pupil will try to better the teacher. That’s just part of Potter’s competitive nature.

“I remember just after she had her first child and we were playing up in Duluth and she came by with her young child and her husband,” Johnson said. “She just wanted to let me know that she was going to be ready for Winnipeg and the world championships that following spring.

“You sort of shake your head, ‘Really? You just had a baby and you’re going to be ready in eight weeks to play in the world championships?’ She was able to do it.”

Craig Merz is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio.


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