Jenny Potter is no relation to the would-be wizard, Harry. But the 23-year-old Minnesotan practices her own brand of magic on the U.S. women's ice hockey team.

And Potter actually transformed her physical appearance — after claiming the gold medal with the rest of Team USA in the 1998 Winter Games.

Known as Jenny Schmidgall when she played as a 19-year-old in Nagano, Potter gave birth last January to her first child, a daughter named Madison.

Three months later, Potter was back on the ice and made a significant contribution to the silver medal-winning U.S. team in the 2001 Women's World Campionships.

While impressing her coach and teammates then, Potter guessed she was only about 75 percent of her normal hockey-playing self.

But during the recent 31-game pre-Olympic tour, Potter blossomed. She finished fourth on the team in scoring with 23 goals and 26 asists and led the Americans in power-play goals with six.

U.S. coach Ben Smith has nothing but praise for Potter, the U.S. collegiate scoring champion in 1999-2000 for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

"She's really picked up her game, and it's back to all-world-type levels," Smith said. "I mean, she seems like she's really got the engine going on all cylinders."

Potter's transformation has mirrored that of the entire U.S. squad. After placing second to Canada in the World Championships for the seventh consecutive time, the Americans won all 31 of their preseason contests, including an unprecedented eight straight victories over the Canadians.

Although seeded second behind Team Canada, the homestanding Yanks are considered the favorite to win the 2002 Olympic tournament. The two world powers are expected to meet in the Feb. 21 gold-medal game at the E center.

One of only two married players on the team, Potter timed her pregnancy just right. Her daughter was old enough to be away from Mommy for extended periods during the Skate to Salt Lake tour, and Jenny had enough time to get back into playing shape for another run at Olympic gold.

"I feel like I'm faster than I was before I had the baby, and I feel like I'm pretty much where my game was before," Potter said. "I feel great."

Madison Potter spent most of the pre-Olympic tour at home in Minnesota with her father, Rob Potter, and her grandparents. But the baby has made a few trips with the team and spent some time with her mother at the team's training facility in Lake Placid, N.Y. She is a welcomed visitor to the team's locker room.

"Everyone else is excited and everyone loves her," Potter said. "She brings a lot of joy to the team.

"My parents beg to watch her, so there's no problem there. When I see her, I make the best out of it."

Still, Potter sees herself as a bit of a pioneer, skating across ice that has not been explored, and can at times be thin. Being the lone mom on the team has been difficult at times, she said, and she has learned to be flexible in her expectations.

Husband and daughter are in Utah this month to watch Potter compete for the gold medal. Mother and daughter will have some time together, but Dad will handle the bulk of the parenting chores as Jenny focuses on the task at hand.

"He's very supportive," Potter said of her husband, a hockey trainer and coach who works with NHL draft picks and helped his wife get back into playing shape. "He's pretty excited for me, you know, to be able to play well and have fun."

E-MAIL: zman@desnews.com