Nicole Hensley was off to the side during warmups, stretching prior to her first-ever start in goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team during the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Coach Ken Klee informed Hensley the day before that she would get the start, which didn’t allow for the greatest night of sleep because of an anxious, excited feeling.
Then, the nerves just disappeared.
What followed for the 22-year-old goaltender was a shutout in her debut. Hensley was perfect and the U.S. dominated during her only performance of the tournament, an 8-0 victory against Russia that saw the Lakewood, Colorado native stop all 16 shots she faced.
“When I came out on the ice for warmups, I was stretching and just kind of looked around and it was almost like a sense of calm came over me,” Hensley said. “You definitely don’t expect your first win to be a shutout, so that was something special that I’ll never forget.
“My teammates were absolutely incredible in their support and they had the belief that I could perform well, which was an awesome feeling.”
Hensley’s first experience on the U.S. women’s hockey team was a successful one, as she was part of the team that captured gold during the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships.
Hensley also participated with the U.S. Women’s Select Team at a pair of Under-22 Series prior to getting a taste of the championship in the spring. Now, she looks to build on that momentum and earn more opportunities in the future.
“When you first make the team, it’s such a wonderful feeling, but then you get with a group of people that motivate you and you’re not satisfied until you’re on top,” Hensley said. “You’re always working as a group not just to win, but to win decisively and for nobody to question that your team is the best in the world moving forward.”
Hensley had an opportunity to learn from the best in the world, sharing the net with two-time Olympian Jessie Vetter and 24-year-old standout Alex Rigsby. The two have combined for nine gold medals during the IIHF World Championships.
“It was really cool to see how they go about their daily training,” Hensley said. “The three of us supported each other really well throughout the tournament.
“It was really great learning from the two of them, having been there before and learning how to handle such a big stage.”
Klee believes Hensley will continue to only get better.
“Nicole is a competitor who is earning her way through the program and continuing to get better,” Klee said. “She has worked hard with our goaltending coach, Robb Stauber, and we’re seeing the results of that commitment and effort. She never gives up on a play and we've enjoyed having her on the team and we look forward to her continued progress."
Hensley recently completed her collegiate career at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri where she set the NCAA all-time saves record, finishing with 4,094 stops in her career. Hensley also established school records in save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (2.52), while finishing as Colorado Sportswoman of the Year for hockey three straight years.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of my experience at Lindenwood,” Hensley said. “I definitely grew a lot as a person and a hockey player over those four years. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten opportunities if I would’ve gone somewhere else.
“I had amazing teammates and a coaching staff that still to this day continue to support and push to help me get better.”
Hensley graduated with a degree in exercise science and currently serves as the video coach for the Lindenwood University women’s hockey team. She also continues to train for future opportunities with the U.S. women’s hockey team.
“I’m training to prepare if my number’s called again,” Hensley said. “I’m really fortunate to work with the Lindenwood strength and conditioning staff. I want to do everything I can and be ready to go for the team.”
Her previous time with Team USA was special but she strives to build on that foundation, elevate her game and contribute once again.
“It’s really hard to describe in words,” Hensley said. “You think about putting on the USA sweater and to actually get to follow through on that dream and to have a gold medal around your neck was an incredible feeling.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.