The USA women’s hockey team is a top 2 team in hockey. If you’re going to pick a team to make it to the Gold Medal Game Team USA is always a near sure fire pick. So it feels weird that the first American goalie to make it on the rankings had to wait until 6. However Team USA has never really needed a top flight elite goalie to win games or Gold Medals. In fact other then Jessie Vetter, Team USA has never really had long term goalies like Canada has had with Kim St. Pierre or Charline Labonte. This is an issue caused by lack of pro leagues/opportunities for women players.
Despite all that Alex Rigsby is looking like she’s headed into her prime and ready to take on the mantle from Jessie Vetter as Team USA’s defacto starting goalie. If you take a look back Rigsby’s history it has the looks of someone who has just been waiting to break out onto the big stage. And she finally did breakout this past year at the 2016 Women’s World Championship after a stumble at the 2015 World Championships.
Being a goalie for Team USA is hard. You’re usually on a pretty strong team with great scorers and strong depth. When you win games it’s expected. There aren’t many opportunities for you to be the hero of the game because your team will generally control the game 90% of the time. For many games as the Team USA goalie you face a challenge that very few other goalies at that level will understand. The challenge is remaining mentally sharp after long periods of time where you get no action. Plus let’s see you try and get recognition on a team that has Hilary Knight.
Alex Rigsby has met those challenges and succeeded. Her first test was the 2009 U18 World Championships. After watching her team steamroll through the tournament Rigsby had to flip the switch and become the hero for Team USA. It was a rare game where Team USA was outshot by Team Canada. Rigsby got through it though stopping 38-of-40 shots and a 3-2OT win for the Gold Medal. The cherry on top was Rigsby being named the Top Goalie of the Tournament. Rigsby and the American’s lost in the 2010 U18 tournament but once again Rigsby repeated as Top Goalie.
Another example of Rigsby moving up the ladder to be the National Team starter is her time at the University of Wisconsin. Her numbers are pretty awesome with an under 2.00 GAA and a +0.940SV% in both seasons with UoW. What stands out to me is Alex Rigsby not only being given the ‘A’ in her first season but then in her second season Alex Rigsby was named Captain (first goalie in University of Wisconsin history). Goalies just are not given that position on the team unless they are the overwhelming leader in the dressing room.
Now coming back to the present and looking at Rigsby we see something very important happen, adversity. At some point in time everyone is going to have to deal with adversity. Maybe it’s a loss, maybe it’s an injury or maybe it’s something else. What you’ll need to do in the end is show how you overcome adversity. For Alex Rigsby the 2015 World Championship Gold Medal Game was her adversity when Team USA blew the lead and Rigsby was pulled in favour of veteran Vetter.
Rigsby didn’t get to redeem herself at the 2016 4 Nations Cup. Instead she was given a chance to comeback as the starter at the World Championship that year instead. First game of the tournament is against Canada. The team that made her get pulled in the Gold Medal Game last year. If there were cracks in Rigsby’s mental toughness for the game against Team Canada she sure didn’t show it as she was solid in the first game winning 3-1.
Then in the Gold Medal Game Rigsby got her true redemption against Team Canada with a 1-0 OT win. Rigsby went save-for-save with the top goalie of the tournament in Emerance Maschmeyer. It’s fair to say that for this game Alex Rigsby was the hero for Team USA rather than Alex Carpenter or at the very least co-hero. The mental toughness showed by Rigsby after the 2015 disaster is an attribute that USA Hockey loves and will be more than happy to have Rigsby as the starting goalie for the foreseeable future.
What should people be looking for when they see Alex Rigsby on the ice? Firstly you’ll notice that Rigsby is both equally comfortable on her feet as she is playing down low on her knees. What I personally like while watching Rigsby is that she has no issues staying on her feet. Rigsby does not feel the need to consistently go into the butterfly. When she does decide to go into the buttery it’s quick. She’s down and then back up ready for the next shot.
For Rigsby there’s also that solid factor. I mentioned it above how Rigsby has high mental toughness. This factor’s in to Rigsby being solid and by solid I mean Rigsby will never lose you a game. You can expect Rigsby to make the necessary saves along with providing that whatever team she plays for will always have a chance to win. Last but not least her leadership. At the young age of 24yo and being a leader is a huge positive.
A small question that remains though is can Alex Rigsby keep up her play without being in a league with constant competition? Rigsby is currently a Minnesota Whitecap player. The Whitecaps are neither a part of the NWHL or the CWHL. Their games are mostly exhibition games. The problem this raises is the same one that nearly forced Noora Raty to retire. A lack of playing the top competition on a regular basis.
Now Jessie Vetter has shown for many years that it is possible to be a National Team starter and also be a Minnesota Whitecap. It is a challenge though that Alex Rigsby is going to need to overcome. It’s also possible that Rigsby finds herself either in the NWHL. Either way though Rigbsy is certainly a goalie to watch because as of right now she is Team USA’s goalie of the future.