BLAINE, Minn. -- When Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby attended the U.S. Women’s National Team Goaltending Development Camp in 2015 and 2016, they had the opportunity practice under the tutelage of Olympians.
Two-time Olympic silver medalists Brianne McLaughlin and Jessie Vetter were at the camp supporting the up-and-coming U.S. goalies, including Hensley and Rigsby.
Now Olympic gold medalists, Hensley and Rigsby got their own chance at helping mold the next great American goaltenders. The current U.S. Women’s National Team goaltenders were mentors recently at the fourth annual U.S. Women’s National Team Goaltending Development Camp at the Schwan’s Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
The annual camp has taken place since 2015 and features players as young as 15 years old and as old as 24. Prior to the establishment of the camp, female netminders worked alongside their male counterparts at the Warren Strelow Goaltending Camp. Alumna of this camp include Hensley, Rigsby and fellow Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney.
This year, 18 goalies were selected to participate. They represented 11 different states and eight of them played collegiate hockey during the 2017-18 season. Four of the participants — Makayla Pahl, Alex Gulstene, Beth Larcom and Kaitlin Burt — are former gold medalists at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship.
“It’s a lot of fun to see what the U.S. has coming up through the pipelines goaltending-wise,” Hensley said. “It’s great to see so many successful female athletes here.”
During the camp, players are provided with specialized training and mentoring, along with resources that can help players with their long-term development.
“You get to focus more on the advancement of your play,” Rigsby said. “You also get that hyper-focus. Plus, it’s always fun to go into a locker room and see only goalie pads.”
Hensley and Rigsby were mentors that were there alongside lead coach Matt Kelly and a group of goalie coaches that included Alli Altmann, Laura Bellamy, Steve Guider, McLaughlin and Lucy Schoedel.
Aside from helping the goaltenders develop their skills, mentorship is a big part of the weekend. Players such as Hensley, McLaughlin and Rigsby have played at the sport’s highest level and can pass along their experiences.
“A lot of what I talked with them about was some of the ups and downs you’ll go through as a goaltender,” Rigsby said. “It’s not an easy journey to get to this level. (It’s unique) to be able to share your experiences and what you’ve found that’s worked.”
Rigsby and Hensley, of course, come in as gold medalists from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, and were part of a goaltending trio that included Rooney. All three have made strong contributions to Team USA at the international level, with Rooney famously backstopping the Americans to a win over Canada that gave the U.S. its first gold medal in women’s hockey since its Olympic debut in 1998.
Hensley played in one game in PyeongChang, a 5-0 shutout of the Olympic Athletes from Russia. Rigsby was on the roster, and was in net for several of the games on the team’s exhibition tour leading up to the Winter Games, but did not play in the Olympic tournament.
“It’s great to see how much we’ve helped boost women’s hockey,” Rigsby said. “It has gotten us on the radar for a lot of people who weren’t quite as aware of what was going on.”
With Hensley, Rigsby and Rooney all under 26 years old (with Rooney the youngest at 20), it’s likely they will continue to be in net for Team USA for years to come. However, based on the participants at this year’s camp, there will be plenty of stiff competition.
And they wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We want this younger generation to come in and be more prepared than we were so our goaltending can be even better,” Hensley said. “We want them developed so that down the line, the U.S. has a lot of tough decisions when it comes to picking goaltenders.”