Minnesota Duluth associate head coach Laura Bellamy considers herself fortunate to have grown up in Duluth during the birth of the Bulldogs women’s hockey program.
She not only watched the program win three straight NCAA championships between 2001-03 by the age of 12, but she also watched some of the sport’s biggest trailblazers take to the ice at the DECC.
“In our own backyard, to have such great women mentors who were pioneers at the time and winning championships — winning the first three championships that were sanctioned by the NCAA — it was obviously very inspiring to me,” Bellamy said.
One of those pioneers in the early days of Bulldogs women’s hockey was Jenny Potter, who was among the four-member U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2020 announced Monday night. The UMD women’s hockey program’s all-time leading scorer and 1998 Olympic gold medalist will be enshrined into the hall of fame in Eveleth in December 2021 — along with the unannounced class of 2021 — due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Originally a Minnesota Golden Gopher at the start of her collegiate career in 1998-99, Potter played three seasons for the Bulldogs from 1999-00 and 2002-04. She was a member of the 2003 national championship team and averaged two points per game at UMD with 108 goals and 148 assists in 102 games for a school-record 256 points.
“My experience at Duluth was unbelievable,” Potter said Tuesday during a video conference with reporters. “I had a lot of great teammates. The most interesting part of my college career was I got to play with players from multiple countries. I had players from Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Russia — all over.
“It was just a great experience on the international stage. It was such a high level.”
Unlike Bellamy, Potter didn’t have any women’s hockey players to look up to growing up in Edina. As a youth player she found herself emulating Paul and Neal Broten — the brothers from Roseau — and Wayne Gretzky, who she met at the ‘98 Olympics.
Potter didn’t begin playing on an organized hockey team until she was 14. Prior to that, her hockey experience was rink ratting outdoors with former Minnesota North Star players. She originally hoped to be an Olympic swimmer, but that all changed when women’s hockey was announced as an Olympic sport for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
“I said, ‘I want to be on that team,’” Potter said. “I spent night and day playing hockey, going to open hockey. I rink-ratted with a lot of great hockey players. I was fortunate enough to make that first cut and make the Olympic team, and not only that, coming home with the first ever gold medal for women’s ice hockey.”
Potter represented the U.S. in four Olympics (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010), adding two silvers and a bronze medal. She won 14 total medals on the international stage, including four golds and six silvers at the IIHF World Championship. She counts winning Olympic gold in Japan among her most memorable experience in life, along with the birth of her two children.
The greatest hockey game she ever played in, however, came in 2003 before a crowd of 5,167 at the DECC when Potter, Caroline Ouellette, Maria Rooth and the Bulldogs defeated Julie Chu, Angela Ruggiero and Harvard 4-3 in double overtime.
Not to diminish many of the great games played since then, but Potter considers the 2003 national championship at the DECC to be one of the best women’s hockey games ever played.
“It really put the forefront of women’s hockey on the map at Duluth as well as across the country and the level of play that girls hockey can play at,” Potter said. “To have all these international stars, that really upped the ante of women’s sport.”