Alex Rigsby

U.S. goalie Alex Rigsby, center, celebrates with teammates after the Americans defeated Russia 9-0 in a 2016 women’s world hockey championships semifinal.

RYAN REMIORZ, Canadian Press

A trip back home to Delafield on Tuesday was going to take Alex Rigsby to the rink where she learned to skate and learned about overcoming obstacles.

On her way there, the former University of Wisconsin women's hockey goaltender, now in training for the Olympics with the U.S. Women's National Team, thought of the Naga-Waukee Ice Arena not far from where she grew up.

"There's so many memories going there," Rigsby said. "Total home-dressers and going to the rink at 6 in the morning for games and all that. It'll be cool to go back to."

Rigsby spoke Tuesday morning before a series of photo shoots for Dick's Sporting Goods' Contenders Program, which offers Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls flexible employment or sponsorship agreements.

One of the photo locations chosen was Naga-Waukee, which in addition to the great childhood memories holds reminders that, for reasons out of your control, some endeavors are going to take more effort.

"Some of the big challenges were just being a girl in boys hockey," she said. "Every year, we had tryouts and unfortunately there were times when I got put on the lower teams just because a dad was the coach and his son was the goalie, those types of situations.

"Playing boys hockey was always a challenge. You always had to prove yourself and prove that you belonged with the team and could handle your own."

Rigsby, 25, played against boys until she started in 2010 at UW, where she helped the Badgers win the national championship as a freshman.

She's in her second residency camp with the U.S. national team after being left off the final Olympic roster in 2014.

The U.S. has played games against junior boys teams and college club teams in addition to a contest against alumni of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.

A pre-Olympics series of games against Canada opens on Oct. 22 in Quebec City. Finland and Sweden join the two women's hockey powers for the Four Nations Cup Nov. 7-12 in the Tampa, Florida, area, where the U.S. is holding its residency camp.

Olympic women's hockey runs Feb. 11-22 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Not being selected for the last Olympics brought "disappointment and heartbreak," Rigsby said.

"But to be able to come back with all the support that I have and continuing to train for the past three years at the end of college, thanks to my friends, family and teammates, now I'm back in it and continuing to chase my dreams of being in an Olympics and competing for that gold medal," she said.

Rigsby is one of 10 current or former UW women's hockey players in Olympic camps. The U.S. also has forwards Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Annie Pankowski. Canada has goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens, defenseman Meaghan Mikkelson and forwards Emily Clark, Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull.

Clark and Pankowski have one year of collegiate eligibility remaining and can return to the Badgers next season.

Final rosters are expected to be announced in December or January, but the U.S. camp started with 23 players, the same number that can be included on the Olympic team.

Rigsby did her build-up to the centralization camp while in the Contenders program, in which she worked flexible hours at Dick's Sporting Goods at Madison's West Towne Mall over the summer.

McFarland's Becca Hamilton, the lead on one of three women's teams that will compete in the U.S. curling trials in November, also is part of the program.

"It was just an awesome thing to be a part of," Rigsby said. "As an Olympic athlete, we're not having these crazy salaries that these other professional athletes have. So for us to be able to have the ability to train and then on top of it be able to go and work when we can in the store, it was an awesome experience."


Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.