“Rivals” would not be the best term to describe the relationship between Team USA goaltenders Nicole Hensley, Alex Rigsby and Maddie Rooney.
Sure, they’re all competing to be the United States’ starting netminder at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. And they know the job can only go to one of them.
However, each of them is also genuinely pulling for the others and trying to help whoever ultimately gets the nod be ready to shine on women’s hockey’s grandest stage.
“The three of us try to push each other in practice every day,” Hensley said. “We’re all competitive and we each want to be the person come February. But we’ll also support whoever gets the call and we want to help them be ready to go.”
To this point, no clear front-runner has emerged, and U.S. coach Robb Stauber has not tipped his hand as to whom he’s leaning toward.
“We’ve got strong goalies across the board,” Stauber said. “I feel very comfortable with that spot. You expect to have that on an Olympic team.”
Rooney has made a strong case throughout the course of the season. She has the most starts (six), the most wins (four) and the lowest goals-against average (1.83). Three of Rooney’s wins have come against Canada, Team USA’s chief rival for Olympic gold, including a 5-1 win in November in the championship game of the Four Nations Cup. Her two losses — also against Canada — both came in overtime.
Hensley has also seen some action, appearing in two games — one of which she blanked Sweden 5-0 in the penultimate game of the Four Nations Cup.
Rigsby played in three games during Team USA’s pre-Olympic schedule. She notably stopped 33 of 36 shots in a Dec. 15 loss to Canada. That represented Canada’s highest shot total in eight pre-Olympic games, and one of the goals Rigsby allowed was controversial. The goal was twice reviewed for possible interference, yet both times was allowed to stand.
On an otherwise experienced U.S. Olympic team, not one of Team USA’s goalies has previous Olympic experience. However, all three are in good hands given the opportunity they have to learn from two instructors with excellent credentials.
One of them is Stauber, who made history at the University of Minnesota by becoming the first netminder to win the Hobey Baker Award — college hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Hensley said Stauber works closely with the goalies on a daily basis and has helped her improve her ability to read shots and react to them.
“He’s really pushing us to be mentally better, which is such a big part of the game,” Rigsby said. “He’s so detail-oriented.”
Rigsby and Hensley both said the same thing about Mike Richter, the goalie for the U.S. Men’s National Team at three Olympic Winter Games, including the squad that won the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He also helped the NHL’s New York Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1994.
“It was so cool to be in his presence,” Rigsby said. “He taught me a lot of little things about stickwork and how to adjust my movements — tiny things that people really don’t think about, but details that are really helpful.”
No matter who ultimately starts in the crease in PyeongChang, her fellow goalies will be behind her 100 percent.
“What’s so fun about our little trio is that we get along so well,” Rigsby said. “We push each other every day. We give support and we get support, which is so important for us goaltenders.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc