1C From ballet to a goalie
By Ben Pherson
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Over time, Michelle Bonapace-Potvin’s French-Canadian accent has faded.
She’s now lived in Minnesota for most of her life, having moved to Fairmont when she was just 6.
But Rochester John Marshall/Lourdes girls hockey coach Steve Russell says he still sees plenty of French-Canadian in Bonapace-Potvin.
"I think it’s that French-Canadian in her that brings out the goaltending," Russell said.
Bonapace-Potvin didn’t start playing hockey until she was a seventh-grader in Fairmont, but from Day 1, she was a goalie.
"My brother has been playing hockey his whole life," she said. "I guess his goalie at the time was really bad, and I thought I could do a better job. At that point I was a dancer and doing ballet and stuff, then all of a sudden I’m putting on hockey pads."
About a year after she started playing hockey, Bonapace-Potvin’s family moved to Rochester and she enrolled at Lourdes High School.
That move has been a blessing for Russell.
Over the last two years, Bonapace-Potvin has been one of the best goalies in the state, earning Associated Press All-State honorable mention as a freshman and sophomore.
Despite playing on a team with a less than flattering record, Bonapace-Potvin has kept her saves percentage above .920.
What makes her so good? Russell says it’s about fundamentals.
"She’s very fundamental; that’s what other coaches have noticed," Russell said. "She skates with the boys team in the summer, and those coaches have said she’s the most fundamentally sound goaltender in the city.
"But she’ll also make that huge save, where the other team has an easy back-door goal, then the next thing you see are these huge pads flying across butterfly style and she just stones them."
While being fundamentally sound is important, Bonapace-Potvin says it’s even more imperative for a goalie to be mentally sharp.
"Being a goalie is a lot different than being a regular player. It’s 90 percent in your head. If you think you’ll stop the puck, you’ll stop it. That’s just the way it is," she said.
Bonapace-Potvin has done a great deal to prepare for the upcoming season, which begins for John Marshall/Lourdes on Tuesday at home against South St. Paul. The standout netminder attended several offseason camps and tryouts and now considers hockey a year-long activity.
That extra offseason work didn’t surprise Russell. He said Bonapace-Potvin works hard, regardless of the activity.
"She strives to be the best, whether it’s getting good grades in school, singing in the choir, playing a musical instrument or playing sports," Russell said.
Last summer, Bonapace-Potvin nearly made the under-17 team that was chosen to represent Minnesota at the U.S. National Development Program showcase in Lake Placid, N.Y. Bonapace-Potvin was with the team until the final cut, when just 52 players remained.
The opportunity to try out for the U-17 team almost didn’t happen, because until last year, Bonapace-Potvin was not a U.S. citizen.
"They wanted me to try out, but I couldn’t because I was Canadian," said Bonapace-Potvin, who was born in a small town in northern Canada. "So I was like, ‘Mom, I have to become an American so I can do it next year.’ "
So the Bonapace-Potvin family went through the process of becoming U.S. citizens. "My parents had to become Americans, and then we just had to file for me to become a citizen and it was just a lot of paper work," she said. "It was a big deal when I finally became a citizen, and trying out for that team was a great experience for me."
Now entering her junior season, Bonapace-Potvin is receiving attention from college coaches. College hockey is something she definitely sees in her future.
"I love hockey, it’s what makes me happy, so I absolutely want to keep playing in college," she said. "I don’t care whether it’s Division I or whatever, I’m looking forward to playing at whatever level I can play."