Switzerland has the youngest hockey player at Sochi 2014. Alina Muller was just 15 years, 10 months and 27 days old when she made her Olympic debut.
This makes her the third-youngest hockey player to have ever appeared in a hockey match at the Olympic Winter Games only behind Swedish goalkeeper Kim Martin Hasson (15 years, 1 month, 8 days), who is still in the game, and Italy’s Valentina Bettarini (15 years, 7 months, 13 days) in Turin 2006.
Among male players, Mark Howe holds the record. The American was 16 years, 8 months and 8 days old when he played his first game in Sapporo 1972.
In the preliminary round, Muller competed against players who were twice as old as her.
“It’s an honour to be here at this age but I don’t notice it that much,” Muller said. “My teammates are very helpful. I try to focus on hockey and to keep up with the more experienced players.”
“I feel great here. It’s perfect here, we have a great team. It would just be nice to win a game.”
So far the Swiss have lost their games against favourites Canada, Finland and the United States but so far Muller has enjoyed the experience besides the Black Sea.
“Everything is very big here,” she said. “It didn’t look that big on the map and also the atmosphere here at hockey games is great, including for women’s hockey. I didn’t expect that.”
Muller hails from Winterthur not far away from Zurich.
“We lived close to the ice rink and with my father we often went there to skate. We joined the kids there and then my brother and me got involved with the hockey club,” Muller said.
Her brother is Mirco Muller, the San Jose Sharks first-round draft pick of last year who competed in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship just a few weeks ago.
“We often skype together. I’m happy that he’s come that far and hope that he will make the NHL,” she said about her brother. But right now he’s cheering for his younger sister.
Alina Muller plays in the same club as her brother did – but with the boys. She hadn’t played any women’s hockey before joining national junior selections and this season the senior national team.
“Sometimes U18 players were able to join for off-ice practice and some were allowed to stay. Everything went very fast this season,” she said.
Normally Muller plays with the boys and competes in the second-tier U17 league with EHC Winterthur.
“I’m usually on the first or second line,” she said. “We also have a female goalkeeper and two female defencemen. I like to play with the boys. It helps me for women’s hockey too. I know the boys well and have played together with them for many years.”
And the boys must like her too. The forward has contributed seven goals and three assists in six games and also competed in the age category below and in three games in the top women’s league for the ZSC Lions Zurich scoring three goals in as many games.
At home she has posters of the Kloten Flyers, the nearby National League A team where his brother played before moving to North America, and she calls Zach Parise and Jeff Skinner her idols.
“I haven’t found Parise here yet but I hope I can see him,” she said with a smile while having met another inspiring forward in Sidney Crosby.
But now the full focus is on the quarter-final game against Russia. The last few years have shown anything can happen in games between these two teams, the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship bronze medallists of the last two years.
“We analyzed the game and watched Russia vs. Sweden at the arena. Everybody is very motivated for the game. Russia is a good team that plays physical,” Muller said.
“I really hope we will win this game because our goal is to win a medal and I think we can reach this goal.”