In observing the roster of the Minnesota Whitecaps for the 2015-16 season, the words “Dream Team” instantly come to mind. The collection of so many world-class talents and exceptional skaters who helped transform the state of Minnesota into one of the most influential regions in the entire world for elite ice hockey propels the Whitecaps into legendary status.
Among the great goaltenders that have suited up for the Whitecaps this season (which includes Alli Altmann and Noora Raty), a pair of highly accomplished women truly embody the meaning of “Dream Team.” Jessie Vetter and Alex Rigsby have not only enjoyed the privilege of donning the Team USA jersey, they are among two of the greatest goalies, male or female, to stand between the pipes in the Midwest.
Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Vetter’s hockey journey has taken her several places throughout the Midwest, including the chance to play against male opponents in Oregon, Wisconsin. In making the decision to play with the Whitecaps, she not only gains the opportunity to continue her distinguished women’s hockey career at the club level, she provides fans in Minnesota, highly appreciative of her world-class skills with the chance to call her one of their own.
Such skills were on-hand during an exhibition game against the NWHL’s New York Riveters, which saw Vetter propel the club to victory. Not allowing a goal in the first and third periods, nullifying many scoring chances, especially on the power play, recording 21 saves in a 5-2 final.
“I have had an opportunity to play with the Whitecaps in the past and really enjoyed my experience. The team is a lot of fun and the staff is great!”
Both raised in nearby Wisconsin, Vetter in Cottage Grove, Rigsby in Delafield, the opportunity to play for the Whitecaps is enhanced by the presence of head coach Robb Stauber. Also part of USA Hockey’s coaching pool, Stauber brings significant experience as a former NHL goaltender. Having played for the Los Angeles Kings during the magical Wayne Gretzky era, Stauber’s background can only serve to sharpen their skills while bringing empathy and understanding to the demands of one of the most challenging (yet exciting) positions in all of sport.
The common thread between such world-class backstops as Vetter and Rigsby are the remarkable legacies that they carved in their NCAA careers. Having both played for “Miracle on Ice” member Mark Johnson at the University of Wisconsin, with their trademark curly locks flowing from behind their helmets, Vetter and Rigsby would each enjoy the thrill of capturing at least one NCAA Frozen Four title as the Badgers starting goaltender. While neither were teammates with the Badgers, Vetter graduated in 2009 while Rigsby was a freshman in 2010, the Whitecaps have helped to extend their growing legacy and strengthen a great friendship between the two.
While Rigsby was laying the foundation for a promising goaltending career at Arrowhead High School, she looked up to Vetter, who was rewriting numerous NCAA records as a goaltender with the Badgers. As the two bring their solid goaltending skills to the Whitecaps, having both enjoyed wins against NWHL clubs this season, the chance to be teammates at the club level is one that Rigsby is highly proud of,
“Vetts is a great teammate and goalie partner, so it has been an awesome experience playing with her on the different teams. I still look up to her and I have so much respect for her and her accomplishments.
Outside of the Whitecaps and Team USA, we also work with the same goalie coach in Wisconsin, so it is fun being able to train with her all year round and in different situations.”
Despite Rigsby breaking several of Vetter’s goaltending records at Wisconsin, records that appeared unbreakable, it has only strengthened the mutual respect between each other. Vetter also discusses the shared training opportunities, while recognizing that the Whitecaps shall only serve to make both even greater goaltenders.
“I have had an opportunity to play with Alex on the US team, train with her in Sun Prairie with our goalie coach Larry and now with the Whitecaps. She is an incredible goalie and I have enjoyed training with her, gives us an opportunity to learn from each other and get better.”
Since becoming teammates at the USA Hockey level, the two exceptional talents have experienced a golden touch. First playing together at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa, Canada (also the site of the first-ever IIHF Worlds in 1990), Vetter and Rigsby would help the USA capture the gold medal, giving Canada its first-ever gold medal loss on home soil.
For Rigsby, the experience resulted in a spectacular contribution to US hockey history. Becoming the first goaltender to play for the US national women’s team at the U18, U22 and Senior levels, 2013 marked the beginning of a golden run.
Fast forward two years later, this remarkable goaltending duo would help the US capture two gold medals in the same year while also becoming teammates with the Whitecaps sorority. Beginning with an emotional victory at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Malmo, Sweden (where current Badgers goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens played for Canada in the gold medal game), the year would culminate with gold at the 2015 4 Nations Cup, where they were joined by several other Whitecaps teammates, including Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, plus Anne Schleper on Team USA.
As Rigsby approaches the Whitecaps with an eagerness to learn, she has quickly observed that one of the greatest attributes of the organization is the strong sense of family and friendship that is fostered. Boasting one of the proudest team cultures in the game today, it is an element that has proven to be highly enjoyable for Rigsby.
Considering that the Whitecaps are an amalgam of players who have competed throughout the WCHA, such as the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Duluth Bulldogs, Mankato Mavericks, St. Cloud State Huskies and Wisconsin Badgers, among others, rivalries are replaced by a common sense of teamwork and belonging, unified by a love of the game.
It is a love of the game that is exemplified by the dedication of the Brodt family. From father Jack, who helped co-found the team, along with sisters Chelsey and Winny, the first pair of sisters to win the Clarkson Cup, their ability to gather so much talent and unify everyone in a collective goal of enjoying the game and setting a positive example for young players in the Midwest may constitute the greatest legacy. It is a legacy that Rigsby is proud to maintain,
“I have really enjoyed being a part of a team and traveling to play competitive games. It has been an extremely positive experience and we are lucky we have such dedicated staff members and individuals like the Brodt family to help make this team a success.”
From Vetter’s perspective, the positive experience has proven to be just as influential in reflecting on what she has enjoyed most about playing with the Whitecaps. Adding to the enjoyment is the fact that several of her teammates (and subsequently, friends) from Team USA have been very happy to extend their careers with the Whitecaps, “Everyone on the team is great and really good hockey players!”
Considering that the Whitecaps schedule includes games against NCAA opponents, primarily from the WCHA, it represents the feeling to go home again, representing a special place where so many players enjoyed their formative years. As Ridder Arena, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, has also served as an occasional second home to the Whitecaps, it took on an even more profound meaning during a memorable moment in US hockey history.
Earlier this year, the Whitecaps competed in a series of exhibition games against teams from the newly formed NWHL. A pair of autumn games on the East Coast involved the Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters, with the Whitecaps splitting said series.
Heading into the holidays, Ridder Arena would play host to the first professional women’s hockey games in Minnesota. It was only fitting that the Whitecaps and their highly accomplished goalies were part of such a momentous and empowering experience. Competing against the Boston Pride, it was a chance for the Team USA members on both rosters to reunite in a rather historic setting. As a side note, Gigi Marvin, a legendary Gophers forward and former member of the Whitecaps was skating in this contest.
After shaking off the rink rust in the first game, which saw Rigsby play valiantly as she faced 38 Boston shots, the Whitecaps bounced back to capture the second game in a thrilling 5-4 final, which saw Monique Lamoureux log three assists. The overall tone of this momentous event in Minnesota hockey history was defined by a celebration of the game, one that Rigsby gladly participated in,
“I have not played vs. any NCAA teams this year with the Whitecaps but I was excited to play in Ridder again this weekend. It is always a great atmosphere and I looked forward to playing vs. old and present Badger and Team USA teammates on the Boston Pride.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Whitecaps at 4 Nations Cup: (L to R: Vetter, Monique Lamoureux, Jocelyne Lamoureux, Anne Schleper, Allie Thunstrom, Rigsby), Obtained from http://www.mnwhitecaps.com/
Alex Rigsby vs. Boston Pride: David A. Berding Photo
Jessie Vetter vs. New York Riveters: Obtained from Twitter https://twitter.com/DigDeepBSB