This is the 16th in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the WCHA's 20th anniversary all-time team. This week's honoree is Alex Rigsby, a goalie who played at Wisconsin from 2010-11 to 2013-14.
By Bill Brophy
The world of women's hockey re-discovered Alex Rigsby this week when the athletic goaltender made 33 saves for the United States national team and posted a 1-0 shutout over Canada in the first game of the Rivalry Series.
Mark Greenhalgh wasn't surprised. He has been following Rigsby's career for a dozen years - from a rink on the state fairgrounds in Wisconsin to watching her win a national title at the University of Wisconsin to the U.S. Olympic team last year in Korea
"What do I think of when I think of Alex? I think of a gal who has it together pretty well," said Greenhalgh, the long-time goalie coach at Wisconsin where he has coached Rigsby and former Patty Kazmaier Award winners Ann Renee Desbiens and Jessie Vetter. "However she goes about things, she does it with an even keel."
Greenhalgh first saw Rigsby when Alex was a junior at Hartland Arrowhead High School and playing for the Milwaukee Junior Admirals' boys team against the boys team at Shattuck, the Minnesota prep school which has produced players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and Derek Stepan.
"My daughter was playing volleyball in a tournament Waukesha and I had a three-hour window so I drove her to watch Rigsby at the Pettit Center," said Greenhalgh about his first viewing of Rigsby. "A couple minutes into the game and her team is down 2-0 and Shattuck was bringing it. They had a nice power play and had all sorts of shots. But Rigsby was cool as could be. It was like buildings were blowing up around her and she never got rattled. The Junior Admirals ended up winning the game 5-3 and I was very impressed with her athleticism.
"I remember that I scribbled notes down on a piece of paper, went back to my daughters' game and then typed my notes up and handed them to Mark (Johnson, the Wisconsin coach). I told Mark I wish we could have her now."
Rigsby, who was born in California, played two years for Milwaukee's midget boys team and eventually chose Wisconsin as her college choice over Harvard. She had played for Johnson at the Under-18 women's world championships in Germany and was impressed with his coaching style.
Before enrolling at Wisconsin, she also was the first woman to ever to be drafted in the United States Hockey League. The Chicago Steel took her in the 16th round, 199th overall in the 2009 draft when Rigsby was 17.
Rigsby never played for the Steel. Instead she played women's hockey on Wisconsin's fourth national championship team. She showed up at the Wisconsin campus in 2010, along with Johnson and Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight, who had all returned from a year with the U.S. Olympic team. Two years before, Vetter was the Badgers' All-American goaltender, as if Rigsby needed more pressure.
"Everyone was hungry for success when those people came back from the Olympics," said Greenhalgh, "and Alex answered the bell. She played great and carried the load in goal and became our goalie. "
The Badgers posted a 37-2-2 record and were unbeaten over the last 27 games of Rigsby's freshman season. Duggan and Knight were first team All-Americans and future Olympian Brianna Decker was a second team All-American. "She had a good cast in front of her," acknowledged Greenhalgh, "but you throw in the other added pressure of coming in after Vetter, how can you do better than win a national championship as a freshman?"
Rigsby became the first UW player to be named captain, won 100 games and made 3,000 saves in her four-year college career. Wisconsin made the Frozen Four in two of Rigsby's final three seasons. She also overcame two hip surgeries to compete for a job on the 2014 Olympic team. She is still curious why she wasn't selected for the team.
But Rigsby stayed even-keeled. She was determined to keep her Olympic dream alive. She won gold medals while playing goal for Team USA at the IIHF world championships in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was named one of the top three players in the 2016 tourney in Kamloops, B.C after scoring a 1-0 shutout victory over Canada in the gold medal game.
Rigsby earned a spot on the Olympic team last season in Pyeongchang, but never got a chance to play in the Games as Coach Rob Stauber chose Maddie Rooney, who had a hot hand in goal and helped the U.S. to the gold medal.
She wears her gold medal proudly.
Rigsby, 27, is currently playing for the Calgary Inferno, the league leaders in the Canadian Women's Hockey League. She is among the CWHL's league leaders in goals-against and save percentage and as Team Canada found out in the Rivalry Series, is playing well.
Rigsby has a busy schedule after the three-game series against Canada. Calgary closes the season with three games in China, then she has the CWHL playoffs and hopes to play for Team USA in the IIHF World Championships in Espoo, Finland in April. And she also is planning a wedding this summer. She is marrying Aidan Cavallini, a former Badger men's hockey player whose father Gino, is a former National Hockey Leaguer who coached Rigsby in her youth hockey days with the boys.
Greenhalgh has seen Rigsby's career go full circle.
"Alex has always been a pleasure to work with, always perceptive, a mature girl," said Greenhalgh. "She is really athletic, plays on her feet and has great dexterity. She is so technically sound. If had to make a tweak to her game, she is smart enough to adapt and athletic enough to make the change. She has a perfect temperament for the game."
Greenhalgh had one more story on Rigsby. It seems there was a benefit game last month in Madison, Wis. to defray the medical costs of cancer patient Noah Sanger the 6-year-old son of former Colorado College goalie Jeff Sanger, a former goalie coach with Wisconsin's men's team. Rigsby provided six signed sticks and jerseys for the benefit.
"She said "whatever you need, let me know," Alex is very generous," said Greenhalgh. "It is good to see a person like that who believes in paying it forward."
About the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team
As it celebrates 20 Years of Excellence during the 2018-19 season, the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will honor the 20 alumnae named to the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team. The team will be revealed, one-by-one, in alphabetical order, one per week (except for the week of Dec. 24) through the week of March 4, prior to the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.
From an initial list of 120 nominations, representing each of the league's all-time eight schools, the WCHA 20th Anniversary Team Committee selected 41 finalists. To be nominated a player (forward, defenseman or goaltender) must have completed her collegiate eligibility at a WCHA institution (nominees did not have to play a full four seasons in the WCHA; however, current student-athletes were not eligible).
The WCHA 20th Anniversary team was determined by 1/3 fan vote, 1/3 WCHA alumnae vote and 1/3 Committee vote (consisting of two WCHA Office staff, one former and two current head coaches and three alumnae).
Other WCHA 20th Anniversary Team members:
Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson