This is the 18th in a series of articles honoring the 20 players who have been selected to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's 20th anniversary all-time team. This week's honoree is Jessie Vetter, a goalie who played at Wisconsin from 2005-06 to 2008-09.
By Bill Brophy
The first time Mark Johnson saw Jessie Vetter play in an athletic contest she was playing shortstop against Mark's son, Chris. Vetter hit a home run.
For four years Vetter was an all-state soccer goaltender for Monona Grove High School, which won three Wisconsin girls state championships. For three years, she played goalie for Monona Grove's boys hockey team.
She can hit a golf ball 220 to 240 yards and now a charity golf tournament in the Madison area bears her name. Vetter trained for the 2014 Olympic team by playing in a weekly three-on-three league in Madison with former National Hockey League players like Barry Richter, Chris Tancill and Gary Shuchuk gunning shots at her
"Jessie is a special athlete," said Mark Greenhalgh, Johnson' goaltending coach at the University of Wisconsin who mentored Vetter, Alex Rigsby and Ann Renee Desbiens, all members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's 20th Anniversary Team. "The one trait she that stands out is that she incredibly athletic. It doesn't matter if it is in goal, on a baseball diamond or a golf course, she is a really, really good athlete.
"I am not saying she is Babe Didrickson, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better women's athlete."
The other thing that stands out about Vetter, who won the Patty Kazmaier Award as college hockey's best woman's player in 2009, was her smarts, said Greenhalgh.
"In her four years in college, she was in the NCAA title game every year and won three of them," said Greenhalgh. "She is the epitome of mental toughness. If you talk about the most athletic and mentally tough athletes I have seen in the women's game, Vetter has to come to the front of the list."
In her four-year NCAA career, Vetter won 91 games and posted 39 career shutouts – at the time both college records, but both have fallen. She also held the record for most goalie shutouts in one season with 14 (accomplished in 2008–09, but later bested by Desbiens. Her final shutout that year came in the national championship game.
Vetter made an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman at UW, but had quite the supporting cast, including Patty Kazmaier winner Sara Bauer. Vetter became the first freshman goalie to ever be named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player after recording two shutouts in the national tournament.
As a sophomore Vetter was an All-WCHA goalie (with a 1.24 goals-against and .932 save percentage) and the Badgers won another national title with a 31-1-4 record. Wisconsin won the championship in Lake Placid, N.Y., beating Minnesota Duluth 4-1 But the most memorable NCAA playoff game was a 1-0 victory over Harvard in four overtimes before 5,125 fans in Madison. Vetter played all 127 minutes and saw Jinelle Zaugg end the marathon with the lone goal.
Vetter was named an All-American in her junior season and wrapped up her college career by posting a 30-2-5 record with a 1.33 GAA and a .936 save percentage, both of which rank No. 2 in NCAA history). She likely had to build space in the trophy case following the 2008-09 season as she was an All-American, the Patty Kazmaier Award winner, a first team All-WCHA honoree, the WCHA Final Faceoff MVP and the first ice hockey player to be named the Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation. Vetter's Badgers also won another national championship.
That team stuck out to Greenhalgh and not just because it included Vetter's future Olympic teammates Meghan Duggan, Erika Lawler and Hillary Knight,
"I remember we played Mercyhurst in the finals at Boston and they had Meghan Agosta, who arguably was and still is one of the finest players in the world," said Greenhalgh. "Vetter had 37 saves that day and we shut them out 5-0. If I recall, Agosta had 17 shots herself and Jessie stopped them all. It was a great way to end her college career,"
Vetter was hardly done with hockey. She went on win silver medals for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in 2010 at Vancouver, B.C. with Johnson as her coach, and 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Vetter also won six gold medals and two silvers at the IIHF world championships from 2008 until 2016.
"She always took a business-like approach to the game," said Greenhalgh. "And was always pleasant to deal with. You always hear that goalies are odd or moody. Not Jessie. She competed hard and was always willing to learn. She was a pleasure to coach."
Vetter retired from hockey in 2018 after giving birth to her first child. She and her husband, former Denver hockey player Scott McConnell, was expecting their second child.
When not being a mom Vetter, 33, works as a sports ambassador for American Family Insurance which has sponsored the Jessie Vetter Classic, a celebrity golf tournament at University Ridge near Madison, since 2011.
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