21 October, 2012

Ashley Riggs

From the day I was born I have lived in a hockey rink. I used to be that little kid you would see sliding down the stairs and running around the bleachers at 7 in the morning in a freezing cold rink. I have an older brother who started playing hockey at the age of 3 so I was at every single one of his games. My dad was the coach of my brothers team so I used to sit with my mom and watch all the time until one game a boy on my brothers team got hurt and didn’t want to play anymore. There were rules at the time that teams had to have a certain amount of players so my dad didn’t know what he was going to do. My mom, at the time, refused to have her little girl play hockey. But my dad came up with the idea of putting me on the roster and sitting on the ice every couple shifts during the games so his team didn’t have to forfeit. My dad also promised my mom it would only be for the last 10 games of the season. Sitting on the ice is exactly what I did. I was so brutal, but I was extremely young at the time so everyone understood why I was just apylon out there. After having the taste of what it feels like to play hockey, I knew that I would play it for as long as I could.

I started playing with boys my own age and absolutely loved it. Even though my mom was so against it at first, she ended up being my number one fan. My family has always loved everything about hockey so it didn’t take long for it to completely take over my life. We started missing family events for it and school work would be done in the car on the way to games and practices and every weekend we were in tournaments. I started to get better and better everyday but I never thought of playing women’s hockey when I was younger, I was always headed in the direction of the NHL. I had dreams to be the first girl player in the league and nobody could ever take that away from me. As I grew up I was playing hockey 7 days of the week and when I wasn’t playing due to it being the summer, I was going to SK8ON hockey school for 6 hours a day. Hockey never got old for me, I just did what I did and played when I played, and loved every second of it.

At the age of 12 is when my parents got the call from the director of the women’s league telling them that if they don’t switch me over to girls hockey, that I will never get the chance to play for the women’s Canadian national team. This obviously freaked my parents out, even though I still believed I was going to the NHL, my parents were a little more realistic. Next thing I knew, I was playing both boys and girls hockey so if I thought I was busy before, now it was just out of control. But I still loved every second of it.

In high school is when I started struggling with the mix of both girls hockey and boys hockey and school work. I was also a part of my high school team so that made it a total of 3 teams I was playing for plus trying to juggle school work, it just didn’t work so well for me. Unlike a lot of other girls whose inspirations were going away to college for hockey, I just thought I was going to the NHL so I didn’t need school. Thankfully my parents would tell me differently every single day and push me through school so I could eventually go to college. I never thought of college hockey so when I started getting the phone calls and visits from college coaches, I never really took any of it seriously. Most girls would write down points the coaches were making and make sure to remember who was promising what but I would just listen and hang the phone up without even remembering which school was calling. My mom eventually had to sit me down and explain that college hockey was my only option and hopefully the Olympic team.  She told me that the NHL was out of the question, not only because I was a girl, but I was way to small.

I really wanted to stay close to home and this was one of the biggest factors when choosing my college and this is why I committed to Niagara University. I was so used to having my parents at every game telling me how I did and I didn’t want that to stop. The summer before going to Niagara University I got the phone call from hockey Canada telling me that I was invited to the U22 team tryouts in Montreal for two weeks. I was so nervous but also ready for it because of all the years of hockey leading up to it.  I was extremely excited!  I got to Montreal and I was one of the younger girls there but I did the best that I could and after a week of tryouts, we had our meetings. I remember walking in my meeting after Olympian Sarah Vaillancourt and seeing the smile on her face knowing she had made the team. I walked into my meeting and sat down in front of 3 coaches and they informed me that I made the team. I was super excited and I called my parents right away to let them know. We ended up playing some games against the USA and then I headed off to school.

My first year of college was the best year of my entire life. I met so many cool people and had so much fun playing hockey. After my freshman year where I did really well points wise, to my surprise I got a phone call from Mel Davidson, the head coach of the 2006 Women’s Olympic team inviting me to centralize in Calgary for the next year in hopes of making the 2006 Olympic team. I of course said I would love to and I had to let my team know I would not be returning the following year in hopes of following my dream. It was sad to leave my team and the people at college but this is why I grew up playing hockey, to hopefully one day be a member of the national team.

I moved to Calgary in June of 2005 and started training with the team. There were 28 of us. After a few months of training I got a phone call from Mel Davidson at 7 am asking me to come into her office. I knew right away I was about to be cut. I was so nervous but my roommates drove me to the rink and as I walked in, I saw the faces of the three coaches and knew this was going to the be the biggest let down of my entire life. They told me I wasn’t ready to be on the 2006 Olympic team and that they would be sending me home. After a few moments of crying, I asked them to send me on a flight the following day, I just wanted to get back to school. When I returned home I tried to get back into school and they informed me that I was a few weeks to late and so I had to sit out the entire year. I was crushed. I did what I could to train that year and keep up my game but its kind of hard to stay the player you were when you don’t have a team to play on for an entire year. I returned to school the following year and did the best I could. I was also part of the Canadian U22 again for the following 4 years and had a blast. I got to travel to Europe and do a lot of things that I will remember for the rest of my life. I ended my career at Niagara University on a high, setting all of the records for goals, assists, and points.

If I was to give anyone any advice when it comes to making a team, I would say that no matter what, don’t let it crush the person you are. If you don’t make it, its not because of who you are, its just that you are not ready at that time. Don’t ever give up if it is something you want. Hockey has brought me so many memories and so many friends, I would do it all over again if I could. Its not over for me though yet, I was just drafted 2nd overall into the women’s CWHL and will be continuing my career on the Burlington Barracudas. Hockey will forever live on for me, whether I’m playing or I am just a super fan. Its my life and always will be.

Jeremy Mills says:
27 October, 2010 at 16:18 PM
Ashley is the apple in my eye. She is an amazing person and an even better hockey player (so I've heard). One time while on vacation, my buddy and I bet her that her and her teammate couldn't beat us 2 on 2. We still haven't played yet but thats because im scared of losing the money. 3 words Ash, 3 words.

Phil Jones says:
28 October, 2010 at 15:44 PM
Great article Ash. I always wondered what happened that you didn't become the greatest women's hockey player of all time. I believe it was their loss, that you didn't play on the big team. To anybody that sees this, Ashley Riggs is the greatest female hockey player of all time bar none. Both ends of the ice, leader by example, won more games for me with under a minute to play then I could count, loved by her teammates, coaches and fans. Hope you continue to enjoy the game. It's your calling!All the best to you and say hi to your folks.

Rane Carnegie says:
27 October, 2010 at 16:42 PM
Having played with and against Ashley Riggs I know that she is a fierce competitor and an amazing person! It is my belief that she is the best female athlete in Canada and if given the oppourtunity will do great things for our country! Good luck this year for the Barracudas!

Robin Duffie says:
27 October, 2010 at 16:54 PM
It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to watch you play at Niagara University. I'm glad you have had a chance to live your dream.

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