PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Alex Rigsby confesses she didn’t even know what kind of history she was making that day.
“I had no idea,” says the Team USA goalie. “I knew the draft was going on. I was driving to pick up my brother from lacrosse practice. I’m starting to get all these texts. I thought they were just messing with me.”
The texts told Rigsby she had been picked No. 199 in the 2009 USHL draft. She was suddenly a member of the Chicago Steel.
That’s a men’s team.
The story she’s told goes like this: The head coach of the Steel at the time went to one of her club games to scout a male player and couldn’t help but notice the goalie. “That guy is really good,” he thought to himself.
He watched the goalie for a few more minutes and eventually spotted a ponytail.
“Please tell me,” he thought, “that’s a guy with long hair.”
It was not. And it didn’t matter. The team drafted her, and she became the first woman ever drafted into the USHL.
It wasn’t a publicity stunt. (There isn’t a ton of publicity for the Chicago Steel anyway.) Rigsby started at a goalie camp of around 50 and made her way through multiple cuts to the final three.
She was 17 at the time.
Rigsby’s history is a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s old news in her world. Gino Cavallini, a former NHLer who now runs the Chicago Mission traveling hockey club, has been used to Rigsby’s dominance since he spotted her as a 10-year-old in Wisconsin.
“When she came down to play for us in Chicago, she beat out boys,” Cavallini says. “One of the goalies that got cut went on to play D-I hockey.”
These days Rigsby spends her summers practicing on the same rinks as many NHL players. She joins them in their workouts, including the “Strong Man Circuit.” She’s just another goalie trying to hone her craft. “In no way am I intimidated,” she says. “It’s fun to go out there.”
But Rigsby’s trailblazing is not the point of her career or her dreams. What she wants is right in front of her now, here in South Korea.
And it will be more difficult than anything else she’s done on a pair of skates.
She was born in Illinois and her family moved around – first to California and then outside Milwaukee. She wanted to play hockey like her older brother, Zach, and like every other kid she rotated through the positions. Then she got to try on the goalie pads and that was it. She didn’t want to go back.
“By the time I was in third grade, I was one week as a goalie, one week as a skater,” she says. “By fifth grade I was a full-time goalie. I haven’t put on player skates since seventh grade.”
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