VIERUMÄKI, Finland – Coaches at the 2014 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp are mostly involved in their countries’ national team program. One of the new faces is Andrea Kröni, who takes over the Swiss U18 women’s national team from Georgios Mourouzidis.
Kröni is one of very few female coaches whose ambitions brought her all the way to a top position in female hockey in her country. While women’s hockey and players are getting better, the female participation in coaching still lacks behind.
Last season out of 36 senior women’s national teams only one had a female head coach, the United States’ Katey Stone. In the U18 women’s category it looked only a tiny bit better with three out of 19 teams having a female head coach: Canada (Laura Schuler), France (Nolwenn Rousselle) and Norway (Laura Rollins).
The Swiss will improve the record with Kröni, who will be the first female head coach for a Swiss team in an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship event since Diane Michaud, who was coaching the senior women’s national team until 2004, and the first Swiss female coach in the program.
“I played on the B national team and knew our team manager Daniel Monnin from that time. I finished my career early due to a knee injury and went into coaching and joined the U18 women’s national team as an assistant coach and now I’m the head coach,” Kröni explained.
Her family is closely connected to the ice. When she was a kid her father was responsible for the ice rink in her hometown of St. Gallen while her mother was running the rink’s restaurant.
“And my brothers played hockey so as the youngest child it was clear I’d also start with hockey,” she said. “But for me it’s already been clear at the age of 8 that I’d become a hockey coach. That has always been my dream and already as a player I tried to help the coaching staff.”
Kröni played in St. Gallen, Lugano, Basel and Weinfelden, and started her coaching education already as a 25-year-old. She has the reputation of being the female Swiss hockey coach with the best coaching education. On junior teams in eastern Switzerland she also worked together with Esa Siren, a former top-level coach in men’s hockey in Finland and Switzerland.
She started with coaching U11 and U13 boys’ teams at Pikes Oberthurgau.
“Then I continued my education and got the offer from EHC Kreuzlingen-Konstanz who wanted to rebuild the youth hockey organization which is interesting, so I accepted. I became chief of youth development, I’m coaching, I’m a board member and now I’m also educating young coaches. I was also coaching the regional U14 selection of Thurgau/Schaffhausen,” said Kröni, who also runs a naturopathic practice although hockey has become the bigger part of her daily life.
Several times during the season she will switch from the various boys teams from Kreuzlingen to Switzerland’s best female U18 players.
“Working with the U18 women’s national team is very interesting. The girls really want to learn,” she said.
However, while the senior women’s team won bronze at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and two years earlier at the Women’s World Championship, the U18 team ended up between 7th and 10th place in the world since the IIHF established the category in 2008. Next winter the Swiss will return to the top division after two years in the second tier.
“We’ve been at a constant level in the last two years but now we can see that we have girls who can play longer with the boys also at a higher level. Alina Müller plays in the top national Novice (U17 boys’) league,” she said. “We’re on a good way.”
In the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Buffalo, USA, 5-12 January, the Swiss will play Finland, Sweden and Japan in the preliminary round. The top two nations of Group B will join the four higher seeded teams of Group A to the final round while the bottom two ranked teams will play a best-of-three relegation round.
“We plan all season for Buffalo. It’s our highlight and we’re all looking forward to playing hockey in America,” said Kröni, who is joined by four of her players and two staff in Vierumäki.
Same as for the players it’s also a very international experience for her, who was already participating in last year’s Women’s High Performance Camp in Sheffield, Great Britain. She has players from 14 nations on her team, works with a fellow coach – Benjamin Hinterstocker, who lost the battle for promotion with Germany against the Swiss – and Lisa Haley from Canada as mentor coach as well as other staff from Finland, France, Hungary and Japan.
“I try to learn something from every conversation I have and the IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp is of course a paradise for networking and exchanging thoughts. I really like it here,” she said.
The practices and games for her Team White as well as the classroom sessions for the coaches end on Friday. After the experiences with mixed international teams she and her compatriots will travel home as Swiss but with plentiful of experiences in their luggage.