In an ordinary week, most college students go to class, do homework, watch some TV and maybe even go out for a drink. But for two University of Wisconsin students, last week was anything but ordinary.
Senior forward Brianna Decker and junior goaltender Alex Rigsby, members of the UW women’s hockey team, flew to Finland, played four hockey games in five days for the U.S. and won a gold medal. Then they were back in Madison only a week later.
As members of the U.S. women’s national team, Decker and Rigsby competed in the Four Nations Cup for the red, white and blue.
Since 1996, the Four Nations Cup has been an annual tournament in which Canada, Sweden, Finland and the U.S. compete.
Canada and the U.S. are the only countries to ever win the cup, with Canada winning it 12 times and the U.S. winning it five times.
The tournament also marked the first chance for Rigbsy to play with the senior national team, and it marked Decker’s second appearance in the Four Nations cup.
Before leaving for Finland, Rigsby was already anticipating her first experience with the national team.
“I am really excited,” the junior goaltender said. “This is going to be my first time putting the team USA jersey on at the national team level. I am really looking forward to it. It is going to be an awesome experience; I am excited to meet up with the girls and play a few games in Finland.”
Decker and Rigsby weren’t the only Badgers suiting up for the U.S., with three other UW alums – Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan and Jessie Vetter – joining the current Wisconsin athletes on the country’s roster.
Wisconsin also has two graduates on the Canadian National Team, Bobbi-Jo Slusar and Meaghan Mikkelson.
Having seven former and current members of the Wisconsin program on either the Canadian or U.S. national team is a testament to how dominant the program has been over the past decade.
Head coach Mark Johnson said it is the player’s desire and work ethic that contribute to his players consistently landing spots on national rosters.
“We’ve had good players that have worked hard and are getting these opportunities,” Johnson said. “But that is what their dream is, is to wear whether it’s a Canadian jersey or a U.S. jersey, but to get that chance.”
After getting to Finland, the national team only had one practice to prepare before its Tuesday matchup with Sweden. Despite the limited preparation, Decker said the players are talented enough to pick things up quickly.
“We all come from skilled programs and are top players in the country,” Decker said. “The chemistry forms really quick. We only had one practice before our first game, but I don’t think you could really tell.”
The U.S. went 3-1 on the week, the lone loss coming at the hands of Canada in the group stage.
But the Americans were able to earn revenge later in the week, shutting out Canada 3-0 in the championship and giving the red, white and blue the gold for the second straight year.
Rigsby and Decker both contributed to their country’s success. Decker came up big for the U.S., scoring five goals in four games, including a four-goal showing in a 15-1 blowout over Finland.
Rigsby played in one game between the pipes, recording a 4-0 shutout with nine saves over Sweden in her first action with the national team.
“It was awesome,” Rigsby said. “It was fun being able to watch the team play. It was a fast and physical game. I think that the team really deserved it.”
Decker said she was proud to wear the USA Hockey jersey in Finland and welcomed the opportunity to catch up with her former teammates.
“It’s always an honor to wear the [USA] jersey and go out there and play for your country,” Decker said. “It was nice to be on the ice with former teammates Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight. I miss playing with them and practicing with them, so it was fun to get back out there.”
Decker and Rigsby will rejoin their Wisconsin squad, which was on a bye week while the two were in Finland, and will travel to Ohio State Friday.
Decker said she believes the experience in Finland will continue to help them throughout the remainder of the season.
“I think it gives us confidence coming back to school here,” Decker said. “That kind of experience shows what we are capable of and that’s what we can bring back here to help our team.”