UW women's hockey: Rigsby is following an icon and doing it with poise

2011-01-27T03:30:00Z 2011-02-04T15:22:05Z UW women's hockey: Rigsby is following an icon and doing it with poiseANDY BAGGOT | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

It's not hard to look at goaltender Alex Rigsby and think of her celebrated predecessor with the University of Wisconsin women's hockey program.

Like Jessie Vetter, Rigsby is a state product who came to UW with a resume of gender-bending achievement.

Like Vetter, Rigsby has been asked to play a prominent role for the Badgers as a freshman.

Like Vetter, Rigsby has had her debut season disrupted by health issues.

Like Vetter, Rigsby has a relaxed presence and shows up for work with a curly poof of blondish hair sticking out the back of her helmet.

Rigsby, a 19-year-old from Delafield, knew that parallels would be drawn between her and Vetter and she's OK with that.

"I came in and knew I had big shoes to fill, but I wasn't going to let that intimidate me," Rigsby said.

Few would argue Vetter, from Cottage Grove, isn't the greatest goaltender in women's college hockey. She won three national titles, the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation's top player in 2009 (her senior year) and set NCAA records with 91 wins and 39 shutouts in 115 career games.

"Everything she's done is just so outstanding," Rigsby said of Vetter, who went on to win a silver medal with Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics. "She's done every single top thing you can think of, every record and award possible."

It says a lot about Rigsby that she's not only willing to walk in such a shadow, but do so with a smile.

"It's a huge challenge," she said, "and I'm always up for the challenge."

Rigsby has handled things well thus far. She's 16-1-1 with a 2.01 goals against average, 91.4 save percentage and four shutouts heading into a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series with No. 4 Minnesota Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.

Top-ranked UW is on the verge of its third regular-season title — it has a 12-point lead on the fourth-ranked Gophers with eight games remaining — and is trying to set a NCAA single-game attendance record during the weekend.

The Big Ten Network will air the series finale live when a "Fill the Bowl" promotion — tickets are $1 and students are free — looks to top the 8,263 that showed up to see the Badgers knock off Bemidji State in the Camp Randall Classic outdoor game last January.

Just as Vetter was a multi-sport standout — including a stint as a power-hitting Little League shortstop — Rigsby was so accomplished in high school that she was asked to try out for a men's team in the U.S. Hockey League.

Just as Vetter had her debut season slowed by mononucleosis, Rigsby still feels the effects of an April surgery in which she had a torn labrum in her left hip repaired.

Vetter wound up going 11-1 as a freshman, including a shutout win over Minnesota in the NCAA title game in 2006.

A defining moment for Rigsby came the last time she faced the Gophers. She started Nov. 5, but was pulled in favor of sophomore Becca Ruegsegger, who along with the graduated Alannah McCready saw action last year after Vetter graduated, after allowing three first-period goals in a 7-5 loss.

During the ensuing optional morning skate, UW coach Mark Johnson spent 20 minutes working with and talking to Rigsby. When the session was over, Johnson told her she would start the series finale that night.

"You need to get right back on the horse," Johnson said, reflecting on the moment.

Instead of getting rattled, a more relaxed Rigsby responded with 25 saves in a 5-0 decision, the first WCHA shutout of her career.

"What helped was she made a couple nice saves early and that settled her down," Johnson said. "That helped her psychologically that, hey, I can do this."

As the playoffs beckon and the Badgers pursue their fourth NCAA title, Rigsby said her priorities are clear.

"Keep confident with everything and stay focused," she said.

Johnson said it's not fair to measure Rigsby against the imposing legacy left by Vetter.

"Certainly the bar is high, but that was (Vetter's) time and that was her opportunity," Johnson said. "(Rigsby) might do better. Who knows?"

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