Schafzahl powers forward for Austria
by Liz Montroy|22 APR 2022
Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl (right) battles for the puck with Italy’s Laura Lobis during the Olympic Qualification in November 2021.
photo: Linda Maier
No one could wipe the smile off of 15-year-old Theresa Schafzahl’s face as the bronze medal for the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games women’s hockey Skills Challenge was placed around her neck.

For the young Austrian, this medal was just one component of a jam-packed season that helped kickstart her career as a mainstay on the national team roster and a standout NCAA player.

“It was unreal to meet many players from other countries and also athletes doing other sports,” Schafzahl said of taking part in the Youth Olympics. “Even though I only participated in the skills challenge and didn’t play any other games, I think I learned a lot there which has helped me since in the NCAA and the national team. I think it helped me mature and get more confident on and off the ice.”

The 2016 Youth Olympic Games took place in February. In January of 2016, Schafzahl won a gold medal at the U18 Women’s World Championships Division I Qualification. Then, in March of 2016, she made her senior national team debut at the Division I Group A Worlds, winning bronze.
Theresa Schafzahl (right) won bronze at the Skills Challenge of the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer.
photo: Fredrik Olastuen
Since then, Schafzahl has become one of Austria’s top forwards. At the last Division I Group A tournament in 2019, she scored five goals in five games and was named Austria’s top player.

“I’m really competitive,” said Schafzahl. “I try my hardest all the time when I’m on the ice and I do think I have a good shot, but I can also make nice passes.”

Schafzahl has honed her skills in the NCAA with the University of Vermont, where she has played for the last four seasons. “I feel like I have learned a lot about hockey over the last four years,” said Schafzahl, citing her access to full-time coaches and a heavy focus on systems as being key. “Not even just hockey, but life-wise I’ve learned a lot with living in a different country and studying. I feel like I’ve matured a lot as a person.”

Schafzahl led rookies in points in her first year with Vermont, and this season became the league’s top scorer, the first Vermont athlete to lead Hockey East in scoring in men’s or women’s hockey. Many of the goals she has scored over the course of her NCAA career have been game-tying and game-winning goals – but Schafzahl is humble, crediting her team’s success as the reason for her own. 

“Over the last four years that I’ve been here, you can really see how much the team has gotten better,” said Schafzahl, who, along with teammate Maude Poulin-Labelle, became the first players from Vermont to be named Hockey East First-Team All-Stars. “In my freshman year we had a bit of a hard time scoring, but now we’ve gotten way better offensively, and defensively too.”

At the end of February, for the first time since Schafzahl entered the NCAA, Vermont won the Hockey East quarter-finals, beating Providence 4-1, with Schafzahl scoring two goals. They lost to Connecticut in the semis but Schafzahl was named Hockey East Player of the Year on 1 March winning the 2022 Cammi Granato Award.
Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl accepts a player-of-the-game award at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A.
photo: Laszlo Mudra
Now Schafzahl’s attention is pivoting to the World Championships, where Austria will be looking to get back on the podium after missing it in 2019. They will also be looking for redemption after finishing second at the Olympic Qualification Group D tournament, where their only loss was a 1-0 game against Denmark, the team that would go on to earn qualification for Beijing.

“After the Olympic Qualification, it definitely took some time for everyone to regroup and refocus, because [earning an Olympic berth] was the main goal for us for a while now,” said Schafzahl. “Honestly, it was tough not making that. But I feel like the mindset is kind of the same going into Worlds, because making it to the top division has, along with going to the Olympics, been our big goal.”

“I think one of the biggest things is just the depth of players we have,” Schafzahl said of what has changed over her time with the national team. Austria’s Olympic Qualification roster included long time national team star Janine Weber, three other NCAA players, and a number of exciting up and comers, including Karolina Hengelmüller, Lena Dauböck and Leonie Kutzer. “We’ve always had some really outstanding players, but now, up and down the line up we have players who can really perform on the ice in every situation, and it’s been awesome to see.”

Now 22 years old, Schafzahl has gained a wealth of experience since taking bronze as a teenager at the Youth Olympics – and there’s certainly more to come from the history-making Austrian.

Last night Austria beat Norway 5-4 in a shootout in a pre-competition game for the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Angers. The two teams along with host France, Slovakia and the Netherlands play for Division I gold and a berth in the top-level 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. The tournament starts on Sunday and games will be streamed by Fanseat.