Changing of the Guard

Talented Trio Ready To Backstop U.S. Women's National Team To The Top

When veteran Team USA goaltenders Molly Schaus, Brianne McLaughlin and Jessie Vetter all retired within the last two years, the door swung open for three young American goalies to skate through.

The trio of 25-year-old Alex Rigsby, Nicole Hensley (23 in June) and Maddie Rooney (20 in July) push each other on the ice, get along well away from the rink and have already enjoyed success on the game's biggest stages.

Rigsby's performance in the gold-medal game of 2016 IIHF Women's World Championship, where she shut out Canada in overtime, marked the changing of the guard.

Hensley followed suit at this year's event, Hensley where she won all three games she started to  lead the U.S. squad to a fourth straight gold medal with a 3-2 (OT) win.  

Not to be outdone, Rooney had a shutout against Russia at the 2017 World Championship in her first start with the U.S. Women's National Team.

"It's just really good for us to have that kind of depth," said head coach Robb Stauber, who played 10 seasons of pro hockey and has spent the last six years working with Team USA's goaltenders. "You only have so many international games, so if we can find ways to get (everyone) in there and expand our goalie pool, that is a great scenario."

The most experienced of the three, Rigsby sets the tone in practice with her work ethic and commitment. Hensley, who set a NCAA record with 4,094 career saves at Division I Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., has a quick glove hand and the ability to make a big stop in a key situation. Rooney moved into the mix with a strong sophomore year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and her relaxed demeanor on and off the ice has impressed both her teammates and her coach.

"It's so reassuring to know we have three really good goalies," said Team USA forward Kendall Coyne. "We've seen what Alex can do and Maddie might be the calmest goaltender I have ever played with. And just like when Nicole [Hensley] did it, Maddie got her first start, first win and first shutout [against Russia]. That is pretty exciting."

As a former goalie Stauber appreciates that Rooney never looks nervous or uptight.

"That can scare some people, but it doesn't scare me," he said. "I like people that have ice in their veins. And she has shown she can play in a big-time game and come up with some big-time saves."

Rooney grew up in Andover, Minn., dreaming of playing for Team USA and appreciates the camaraderie and competition with Rigsby and Hensley.

"Alex and Nicole have been really supportive," Rooney said. "Representing Team USA means a lot to me and I am honored to play with the top players in this country."

After a stellar college career at the University of Wisconsin, Rigsby has played in three World Championships and four Four Nations Cup tournaments, and is a direct link to Vetter, McGlaughlin and Schaus.

"It was pretty incredible playing with them, I learned a lot and Jessie has really been a great mentor to me," Rigsby said. "And now having Maddie and Nicole here has been great because we push each other in practice and learn from each other.

"We have a good relationship and that makes it fun to compete for the chance to play in games.  And they have really done a great job - it's exciting to have a dynamic trio of goalies here."

Philip Colvin is a freelance writer based in Walled Lake, Mich.

Time-Tested Trio Trio Form A Fine Line // By Philip Colvin

When Team USA star center Brianna Decker was named the best forward at the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship, the award could easily have been split three ways to include her long-time linemates Kendall Coyne and Hilary Knight.

Over the last four years the threesome has developed into the U.S. Women's National Team's most dominant line with a combination of top-end speed, unselfish play and a knack for knowing where each other is on the ice.

"It's kind of our sixth sense," Coyne said. "We love playing together. No one cares who scores or who gets the credit. We just want to win."

Their styles complement each other well, and Decker makes it all go with her on-ice vision, playmaking ability and relentless pursuit of the puck.

"Brianna is so strong on the puck and really creative when she gets it," said Knight.

And on a team of terrific skaters, Coyne's speed stands out. She uses it put defenders on their heels, get to open ice and attack the net.

"She's always been our fastest skater. You don't need a stop watch or lasers to figure that out," said head coach Robb Stauber.

A veteran of two Olympics and nine World Championships, Knight is a power forward equally adept at setting up in front of the net, firing a one-timer from the off wing or barreling down the right side and unleashing her big shot. She scored the OT game-winner in the gold-medal game at both the 2011 and 2017 World Championships.

"When the game is on the line, you want her to have the puck," Decker said.

Knight and Decker live together in Boston, and stay in close contact with Coyne by way of a "liney group chat," Knight said. "Having that chemistry translate from off the ice to on the ice is one of the biggest things that makes us successful."



Kessel Happy To Put Dark Days Behind Her  //  By Philip Colvin

It's not hard to tell that 25-year old forward Amanda Kessel is excited to be back playing with the U.S. Women's National Team. It's written all over her face.

"You can see it by the look in her eyes, her smile and her demeanor. It is real joy," said head coach Robb Stauber.

A dynamic skater, playmaker and goal scorer, Kessel missed almost two years of action battling the effects of a concussion she suffered before the start of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. During those "really dark times" when she was confined to her University of Minnesota dorm room with constant headaches and nausea, she wondered if she'd ever play for Team USA again.

"I would try to tell myself that I would be back, but I definitely doubted it," said Kessel, a native of Madison, Wis. "I kept thinking I want to play in the next Olympics, but as the days went on it kind of seemed less and less likely." 

Kessel finally received medical clearance to get back on the ice in February 2016 and helped the Gophers win the NCAA title a month later. She returned to the U.S. National Team for the two-game exhibition series with Canada last December and was a standout in Team USA's gold-medal run at the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship.

"I really cherish every moment now. The best part is your teammates and just being there. You have 22 friends," said Kessel, who had a goal and five assists in the tournament. "It makes you really appreciate the game. You miss even the little things, like being at camp. Now, I am trying to soak in every second.

"It was a tough time to go through, but overall it made me stronger. Every game I feel better and better, and I feel like I can get through anything at this point."





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