Among the hallmarks of the Calgary Inferno, one of its most significant involves the remarkable legacy of world-class goaltenders that have donned the red and black jersey. Highlighted by the dazzling presence of Delayne Brian, a participant in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game and the MVP of the 2016 Clarkson Cup, to the likes of Emerance Maschmeyer, the first goaltender from Alberta to play at all three levels of Hockey Canada’s women’s program, plus Triple Gold Club member Genevieve Lacasse, this sensational sorority is enhanced by the arrival of Alex Rigsby.
Selected by the Calgary Inferno with their fourth pick of the draft, the club acquired one of the most accomplished goaltenders of her generation. Undeniably, Rigsby’s name is synonymous with history. Having rewritten the University of Wisconsin Badgers’ goaltending records, including an NCAA Frozen Four win as a freshman, losing only one game during an absolute dream season, Rigsby’s legacy in American hockey involves a trio of unique achievements.
Back in 2009, Rigsby obtained her first draft experience, as she was claimed by the Chicago Steel in the USHL Draft. Becoming the first female goaltender in league history to achieve such status, it simultaneously served as a springboard which saw Rigsby’s star on the rise. In addition, she shares a celebrated achievement akin to Maschmeyer. Of note, her selection for the US roster which won the gold at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, made her the first goaltender to have played at all three levels of USA Hockey’s program.
With the US having captured the gold at the 2018 Winter Games, the first in over a generation, dating back to Nagano 1998, Rigsby’s legacy also enjoyed another historic first. Becoming the only American-born goaltender to have captured an NCAA Frozen Four title, an IIHF World championship, plus Winter Games gold, it served to enhance her standing as one of the modern generation’s most iconic players. Taking into the account the high level of parity entering the upcoming CWHL season, the jubilation of a Clarkson Cup would allow Rigsby entry into the Triple Gold Club, becoming the initial American backstop to join said Club.
As Rigsby’s hockey odyssey continues on Canadian soil, rivalries of international intensity shall quickly dissolve, as she calls a group of distinguished competitors new teammates. In seasons past, many members of Canada’s national team have called the Inferno their club team. Although it shall present a unique experience for Rigsby, playing alongside several talented skaters who were challenging the US for the gold at PyeongChang just a few months ago, there is also a theme of reuniting.
Raised in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Blayre Turnbull would compete alongside Rigsby for the Badgers. Part of a compelling group of Canadian-born talent in recent Badgers lore, which also included Ann-Renée Desbiens and Sarah Nurse, other members of Canada’s contingent at the Winter Games, Turnbull’s professional career brought her to Western Canada, donning the Inferno’s jersey.
While Turnbull’s greatest legacy with the Inferno involved scoring the game-winning goal of the 2016 Clarkson Cup finals (the first-ever contested in an NHL arena), Rigsby’s presence provides them a chance to become teammates once again. Also offering an opportunity to rekindle their friendship, especially after a long Winter Games cycle of rivalry, both are poised to ponder exciting plans for the unfolding future,
“Whenever you can step on the ice with elite players it is an incredible feeling, no matter where they are from. I am excited to get to know some of these players that I have only ever competed against. I played with Blayre Turnbull at the University of Wisconsin, and she is going to be my maid of honor at my wedding next summer, so I cannot wait to spend some time with her this year.”
The season to come also offers Rigsby two unique linkages to the legacy of Nagano. From the outset, the Inferno’s head coach for the 2018-19 season shall be Shannon Miller, who inherits the role from Tomas Pacina. During Rigsby’s phenomenal years at Wisconsin, Miller served as the head coach for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, two of the most dominant clubs in WCHA Conference history. Before serving as the Bulldogs’ bench boss, Miller was in an identical role with the Canadian contingent that emerged with a silver medal at Nagano.
Considering the intensity of the rivalry between the Badgers and Bulldogs, there is a tinge of irony in the fact that Miller shall now take on the role of head coach during Rigsby’s inaugural season of CWHL hockey. As a side note, the element of irony is one that is not new in Rigsby’s post-university career.
Having also spent as a season sharing goaltending duties with fellow Badgers goaltending legend Jessie Vetter as members of the Minnesota Whitecaps, several home games were contested at Ridder Arena, which is also the home ice of the WCHA’s Minnesota Golden Gophers. Although it would have been impossible to foresee a time when such iconic individuals of WCHA hockey, like Rigsby and Miller would be aligned on the same team, their paths also crossed in another unique instance.
During the 2013 IIHF Worlds, Rigsby’s first appearance with the American senior team, Miller was on-hand serving as an advisor to the Russian national team, emblematic of her role with the IIHF’s Mentorship and Ambassadorship program. While Rigsby’s USA team gained the gold medal, Russia earned the bronze medal, a fitting tribute for Miller.
“It is really crazy to be able to call her my coach now after all these years. She is obviously well-respected and I have only ever heard good things about her from her former players. After speaking with her for the first time, I knew I was making the right choice to come play in Calgary as I know she will help me reach my goals as a hockey player, and she also has tremendous respect for her players and their lives outside of hockey.”
In addition, Rigsby’s sojourn with Calgary mirrors a similar move that took place in the aftermath of the golden glories of the Nagano Winter Games. The following autumn, Sue Merz would make the trek north of the border, suiting up for the iconic Brampton Thunder (located west of Toronto), during the original NWHL’s inaugural season of 1998-99.
Skating alongside the likes of Canadian rivals Lori Dupuis, Vicky Sunohara and Jayna Hefford (who was appointed to the post of interim Commissioner of the CWHL prior to the 2018 Draft), Merz heralded the beginning of an overlooked legacy in Canadian women’s ice hockey. Later years would see American stars such as Cammi Granato (skating for the Vancouver Stars) and Angela Ruggiero, who would win a bronze medal with the Montreal Axion (pronounced Action) at the 2005 Esso Women’s Nationals, the predecessor to the modern Clarkson Cup, make their mark in the Canadian rinks.
In addition to Merz, other notable Americans that skated in the original NWHL and/or CWHL included Jamie Hagerman (Brampton Thunder), Jessica Koizumi (Montreal Stars), and Karen Thatcher (Vaughan Flames). Worth noting, goaltender Mandy Cronin, who would later play in the Boston Blades inaugural season was a co-founder of the CWHL, while Molly Engstrom, another celebrated Wisconsin alum, scored the game-winning goal for the Thunder against the Mississauga Warriors to capture the first-ever CWHL championship.
Although Merz was the lone American on the Brampton Thunder back in 1998, Rigsby shall not be alone on this season’s exciting edition of the Inferno. Joining her in this newest chapter are a pair of highly familiar faces, fellow 2018 gold medalists Brianna Decker and Kacey Bellamy. Having both signed as free agents with the Inferno, neither are strangers to CWHL hockey.
Decker garnered the league’s Rookie of the Year Award back in 2015, also capturing the Clarkson Cup that same year. Having graced the ice at Air Canada Centre for the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Bellamy’s first run in the CWHL involved a pair of Clarkson Cup triumphs (2013, 2015).
In addition, Decker and Bellamy both captured an Isobel Cup together too, representing a rare grand slam of four major titles in women’s ice hockey. Worth noting, Decker was a teammate of Rigsby’s on the Badgers championship team of 2011. Having also won IIHF titles and Winter Games gold, a Clarkson Cup would mark the fourth time that they have been champions together, representing a special grand slam for Rigsby.
“Yes, I am really excited to be able to continue to play with them and this time it being in Canada. It is an exciting next step in our careers, and I am looking forward to being able to share that experience together. They are both competitors who push you to be better every day.”
While the experience of the gold medal propelled Rigsby and her teammates into celebrity status, from appearing on NBC’s “Today Show” plus the syndicated Ellen DeGeneres Show, the team also garnered the ESPY Award for Best Game. As players have also been invited to numerous functions, including Rigsby joining Kendall Coyne and former Wisconsin Badgers teammate, and current Canadiennes de Montreal forward Hilary Knight at the Chicago Blackhawks convention (Rigsby also played for the Chicago Mission AAA boys team as a teenager), she is part of an exciting milestone in the game’s history, brining women’s ice hockey to even greater prominence in America.
Certainly, such status will make Rigsby one of the CWHL’s drawing cards. Considering Calgary’s role as one of Canada’s premier hockey communities, along with its status as a sports hotbed for the Western part of the nation, it is a city that is destined to hold a special place in Rigsby’s career. Although Rigsby, along with Bellamy and Decker, shall be playing professionally in Canada for the first time in their storied careers, the adjustment is one that should prove well worth it. Anticipating the opportunity for significant playing time, along with the sense of delight and enjoyment that cannot be found during the high stakes intensity of international play, Rigsby is ready to make her mark, providing Canadian fans an opportunity to appreciate her phenomenally peerless skills between the pipes,
“I am really looking forward to being a part of a team and playing in more games. The whole experience will be a new challenge for me, and I know it will be a lot of fun. I am also really excited to be able to compete alongside, and against, some incredible players.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Harry How/Getty Images, Jeff Miller
Blackhawks Convention image obtained from: https://twitter.com/arigs33?lang=en
Other images obtained from: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/qa-alex-rigsby-olympic-hockey-team-usa
Women’s Hockey Life once composed a feature on Rigsby and Vetter as Whitecaps teammates. For further reading, please visit: https://www.womenshockeylife.com/bloggers_view_dsp.cfm?MemberId=55&BlogId=1856&CatId=16