Nov. 5, 2012
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MADISON, Wis. -- In the middle of the semester, and after sweeping Minnesota State this past weekend, Wisconsin women's hockey team members Brianna Decker and Alex Rigsby packed their bags for Finland.
No, it's not a European getaway for some rest and relaxation.
The two standouts on the women's hockey team took off to play with the U.S. Senior Women's National Team for the 2012 Four Nations Cup, an annual round-robin tournament that features the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden.
"It's really cool to be able to think that I'll be leaving for Finland," Rigsby commented after shutting out Minnesota State last Saturday night. "It was kind of stressful leading up to the weekend, having to make up exams and quizzes. I had to be on top of that, because I didn't want to come back and be completely behind."
"I think you just need to have a good balance with school and your sport, and that's what can be one of the most difficult parts," Decker added.
Another challenge the players face is playing for two different teams.
In less than 48 hours after skating at LaBahn Arena, Decker and Rigsby were on the ice with Team USA half a world away. Not only is the level of play different, but the team implements different systems and strategies than those they've been accustomed to all season at Wisconsin.
As a goalie, Rigsby has pointed out one specific difference between the two teams.
"I think the biggest thing with (Team USA) is playing the puck; their system is a little bit different than what we have here (at UW) and I've been trying to work on that this year."
The experience in Finland also stands to be vastly different for the two.
The 2012 Four Nations Cup will be the fourth time Decker has suited up in the tournament. For Rigsby, the tournament will be the first time she has skated with the U.S. Senior Women's National Team.
Many wouldn't have doubted Rigsby's skills in years past, but with fewer spots available for goaltenders on any hockey team, she has had to patiently wait for her opportunity to play with the senior team.
Now that chance has come.
"It's pretty exciting to finally get my foot in the door and finally be a part of the national team," Rigsby said.
Growing up playing with Rigsby in youth hockey in the greater-Milwaukee area, Decker has seen the hard work Rigsby has put in to get this opportunity.
"I'm excited to play with her on the national team," Decker remarked. "I think it's well deserved. She's been working her butt off to get to where she's at and she's earned her chance to play with the senior team."
The two both played with the U.S. U-23 team this summer in a three-game series against Canada, where Decker captained the U.S. to a sweep over its northern neighbor. Also the captain of the Badgers this season, Decker will be coming back to the national team with a different perspective.
"I'll take the leadership I've learned both from here at UW and with the U-23 team," Decker said. "There are other leaders and veterans that can step up and they'll lead differently. I can still learn from them and pick up on things, but at the same time I'm going to continue to play hard and play my role."
Rigsby enters the tournament presumably as Team USA's third-string goalie. A status not to be taken lightly as All-American goaltenders Jessie Vetter and Molly Schaus will also be competing for time in net.
"I'm not going to get too worked up if I don't get the start against Canada," Rigsby jested, as she understands and embraces her position with the team.
"I'm taking this as a learning experience and I'm excited to just be a part of the team and being able to put on the jersey for the first time at the senior national team level. I've done it in the past, but never with them, and it's always a great feeling knowing you're representing your country."
Even though it's the fourth tournament for Decker, that excitement of representing her country has never gotten old.
"Getting together with the girls and being able to hang out with them is great. They're the most talented girls in the country and being able to play with them is an honor," Decker commented.
But there is one thing Decker is looking forward more than anything else in Finland.
"Hopefully playing in the championship game and winning a gold medal."
In addition to Decker and Rigsby, five former Badgers will participate in the Four Nation's Cup. Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Vetter, will skate for the U.S. squad, while Meaghan Mikkelson and Bobbi-Jo Slusar will skate with Team Canada.
Team USA starts the 2012 Four Nations Cup on Tuesday with a game against Sweden at 8 a.m. (CT). Canada starts on Tuesday as well, playing against Finland at 11 a.m. (CT).