Stalder: “I’m excited”
by Lucas Aykroyd|19 SEP 2019
Switzerland's Lara Stalder has scored four goals and four assists in 11 games in her two Olympics (2014, 2018).
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Luck just wasn’t on Lara Stalder’s side last season.

The gifted Swiss scorer had been sidelined with a shoulder injury since November when she returned to action in the Swedish women’s hockey league SDHL in January with Linkoping, and she got reinjured in her comeback game against HV71. Stalder elected to undergo surgery, missing the remainder of 2018/19. She went to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Finland, but another injury connected to her shoulder kept her out of the Swiss line-up.

So the two-time Olympian, who won a bronze medal in Sochi in 2014, is eager for a fresh start. She had 16 goals and 38 points in just 16 games last year, but would love to recapture the 2017/18 form that saw her lead the SDHL with 39 goals for Linkoping.

“Summer has been good,” Stalder, 25, told at the Aurora Games, a women’s sports festival including hockey that debuted in August in Albany, New York. “I was already good before the summer, so it was about getting back into little details. Having proper summer training was good. Now I’m excited to be back on the ice. I just love hockey even more now that you know you have breaks and you can’t play all the time. I’m excited for the season to start now, and I hope it will be a full season this time.”

She’s wearing a new uniform with Brynas, and she debuted with a natural hat trick in a 5-1 win over Gothenburg on 13 September. The Lucerne native enjoyed spending two seasons as a Linkoping teammate of recently retired Swiss goalie Florence Schelling, the 2014 Olympic MVP, and the team made it to the SDHL final before losing to Lulea both years. Still, there were multiple incentives for Stalder to move to Gavle, a city of 100,000 that hosted the 1993 World Juniors.

“I finished my Master’s degree [in strategy and management in international organizations] in Linkoping, and I just wanted to see something new,” Stalder explained. “Brynas gave me a really good offer. Gavle is a new city for me, closer to Stockholm. It’s also closer to fly home. I already know a lot of players there, and I like the philosophy in Brynas. They really support women’s hockey. They’re kind of even to the men’s team. They want to push. They’re proud of their women’s team, and that philosophy showed me there’s a good future. I want to stay there for a couple of years, I would say, and build something, especially because they weren’t high up in the standings before.”

Brynas will have a stacked roster this season. It also added Czech stars Katerina Mrazova and Denisa Krizova from the NWHL and 18-year-old Swedish blueliner Maja Nylen Persson, already a veteran of one Olympics and two Women’s Worlds.

Naturally, Stalder, a former University of Minnesota-Duluth star, is eager to help her Swiss national team move up in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking as well. After finishing fifth at both the 2018 Olympics and 2019 Women’s Worlds, Switzerland predictably sits fifth overall.

Stalder is excited about what Colin Muller will bring to the team as the new head coach. The 55-year-old Swiss-Canadian worked as an assistant coach last season under Daniela Diaz, who was just promoted to general manager. Muller also brings valuable experience as an assistant coach of the men’s national team under Sean Simpson, who led the Swiss to a landmark silver medal at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm, and as the Swiss head coach at the 2014 World Juniors.

“I only met him at Women’s Worlds last year,” Stalder said. “He came in there for a couple of camps before. But he has a good philosophy and all the girls look up to him. He has a huge personality and he knows hockey really well. I think he’s a really good character and he also cares a lot. On the ice, you can tell he wants to teach us something. He’s enthusiastic about it. That’s so cool to see. It’s fun that he’s taking over now and looking to take that step for Swiss women’s hockey.”

How about the appointment of Schelling, 30, as the head coach of the U18 women’s national team?

“I think that’s a really cool thing for her too, personally. She stepped down and she already has her next project going! She’s always working on things. I think she’s a really good personality for that. She has the respect and the authority to take over that spot, and everyone looks up to her, because she’s a big name in Swiss hockey. She brought Swiss hockey to where it is now. I think she’s going to do great. I hope our U18 team will step up a bit too that way.”

Stalder isn’t the only one who feels optimistic about her countrywomen’s progress even though key players like Schelling, defender Christine Meier, and forward Sara Benz have hung their skates up.

“I think Switzerland’s continuing to grow,” said Sarah Murray, who played three seasons in Switzerland and coached the unified Korean host team that fell 8-0 to the Swiss in their 2018 Olympic opener. “From my time playing there to where they are now, they have some really strong young players. I think they’re going to continue to develop. It’s hard losing old veterans that are going to help with the younger ones, but I think the talent they have will continue to grow and they’ll bring the younger players up the right way.”

At this point, Stalder, who won a Swiss title with the ZSC Lions Zurich in 2013 and was named Swiss Ice Hockey Woman of the Year in 2017, has a good handle on the ups and downs of this sport. She watched her former UMD teammate, goalie Maddie Rooney, with interest over the last two seasons.

Rooney, now 22, stole the spotlight in PyeongChang as the U.S.’s starting goalie and made the gold medal-clinching save against Canada’s Meghan Agosta in the final shootout. However, last season, she posted a modest 2.81 GAA and 91.9 save percentage with UMD, and veteran Alex Rigsby (now Cavallini) regained the number one job as the U.S. won its fifth straight Women’s World in Espoo.

“She’s a really good kid,” Stalder said of Rooney. “You already knew from facing her in practice that she has some huge talent. She reads the play so well. Every time you come down on her, she kind of knows already where you’re going to shoot. It was really fun to see her at a young age performing this well. In the shootout when the Americans won the gold medal, that’s amazing for her. And then, it’s business, I think. In the States the competition is so huge. If you play at the top of your game, you get to play. When you’re a bit lower, someone comes right in and takes your spot. I’m sure she’s going to get back to where she was with the gold medal.”

In this sport, you need to have some luck, and you need to be flexible. Just ask Stalder, who plays both forward and defence at the coach’s pleasure. Right now, she doesn’t care what position she plays as long as she ends up back on the ice at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia.

If all goes well, she will not only reconnect with new friends she made at the Aurora Games, but also help get Switzerland back on the podium as her team builds toward the 2022 Beijing Olympics.