Swiss looking for more girls
by Martin Merk|04 OCT 2019
Florence Schelling instructs players during last year’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.
photo: Bebie Photography
Switzerland sits currently fifth in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking and has remarkably kept itself among the top women’s hockey nation despite having one of the smallest player pools from the established elite-level nations.

Switzerland has only 1,924 female players. That’s about two per cent of what Canada or the United States have, and still smaller than the player pools in the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Russia and Sweden.

A reason for still being strong is that some of the best players are really good. When Switzerland won its two bronze medals at Olympics and Women’s Worlds, goaltender Florence Schelling was voted best goaltender of the tournament both times and MVP of the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Up-front the Swiss have a new generation of forwards who also score high in some of the best leagues such as Alina Muller and Lara Stalder.

Schelling retired in 2018 but wants to help her country off the ice. She is now the head coach of the U18 women’s national team and has also used her reputation as world-class Swiss player to run recruitment events.

Schelling has been inspired by the global World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend initiative that has taken place in over 40 countries annually including her event in the Zurich suburb of Kloten. Now she expands to other cities this season. After the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Kloten this Sunday, Schelling has scheduled other Girls’ Hockey Days in Bern, Biel, Davos and Zug (click here if you want to join).

“The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend is on one weekend and I want to give the opportunity during the entire year. It’s different markets but there are also girls who will come at several events,” she said.

“2014 I started with the one in Kloten where it will be the sixth event now, at other places it’s for the first time. It will be cool, I see what the interest is like in different regions where I usually don’t go so often. In the last few years we had 60 girls at such an event.”

Schelling is helping in a country where not many arenas have hosted such events since the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend started in 2011. Despite good examples. For instance, Geneva hosted from the very beginning and after a few years managed to have enough players to form a women’s team. That’s why Schelling started to reach out for support. She has a sponsor who did the website, an equipment supplier and tries to reach out to women’s hockey teams but admits that it hasn’t been easy until now.

Schelling has had players who came repeatedly. One explanation could be that there are no girls’ leagues. Girls usually play on boys’ teams until they join senior women’s teams in their teenage years. That’s a big difference to North America.

“In other countries you can play as a little girl in girls’ hockey and in Switzerland we don’t have this, they play with boys. That’s why I focus on 4- to 12-year-olds, they can normally only play with boys,” Schelling said.

After having done a recruitment event for several years – first as an active, now as a retired player and coach – she can already see the first success stories.

“I have two players on the U18 national team who participated at the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Kloten, also on the U16 team,” she said and would like to become more of a mentor to retain the players. “I would like to create more contact, to stay in touch and make sure they don’t stop playing even if they have hard times where I can help.”

With more media attention for women’s hockey since the Olympic bronze win in 2014, she hopes Switzerland can work to remain a contender.

“We are still far behind the top nations. But there are people who want to help women’s hockey in Switzerland to make it better,” she said.

New women’s hockey centre for eastern Switzerland

Beside Schelling’s event in Kloten there will be two more World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend events hosted by clubs in Kreuzlingen, Neuchatel and Thun.

EHC Kreuzlingen-Konstanz and former U18 women’s national team coach Andrea Kroni will also this year be part of the global event. On Saturday players can try hockey for free during one hour at the club’s Bodensee Arena at the shore of Lake Constance.

“We are happy that there are more events for girls and women. For our club it’s important to develop hockey both for men and women,” said Kroni. That’s why her club and SC Weinfelden founded a new women’s hockey centre for eastern Switzerland that is recognized by Swiss Ice Hockey and Swiss Olympic, the first of its kind in Swiss women’s hockey.

“It takes time until you can harvest the fruits of the work but the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend events we did helped us to be recognized as a club developing women’s hockey in our region and the whole country. It is great to be part of a global movement and to see the happy faces of the girls.”

The club was able to increase the female participation to 20 per cent for players born in 2010 and to even 25 per cent for 2013-born players. The national average over all age categories is 4 per cent.

Neuchatel the queens of Romandie

Moving over to the west, Neuchatel Hockey Academy has had recruitment events before but will now for the first time host one as part of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend on Sunday.

Recently they have been contacted by a men’s club so the sisters, mothers, wives and girlfriends can be converted from spectators to players.

“The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend seemed to us an excellent platform so new women and girls can try hockey,” said club president Laure Aeschimann. Yesterday the event even made it on Page 1 of the regional newspaper Arcinfo.

They were headlined as the queens on the ice of the Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. And that’s not without a reason.

Women’s hockey has been catching up in the French-speaking part of Switzerland compared to the other regions that have traditionally had better representation on the women’s national team and top-level hockey.

“Today we have 15 teams in this part of Switzerland out of 49, which is a nice proportion. However, there are only two elite teams with Fribourg in the SWHL B and Neuchatel in the SWHL A,” Aeschimann said.

Neuchatel is the leader in the French-speaking part and the only club beside the ZSC Lions Zurich with three teams at three different levels of the Swiss Women’s Hockey League system.

“That makes women’s hockey in the Romandie more dynamic and I think it’s important for young, talented girls to have a goal they can aim for. I also noticed that there are also more and more adult women, like mothers, who would like to start playing ice hockey. That’s why it is important to also have women’s teams in lower leagues to be able to integrate new players,” she said. And that’s why the event will be open for future female players of all ages.

Events in 40 countries

Do you want to try ice hockey too during the weekend? Check out the list of venues during the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. There are hundreds of events in 40 countries and six continents waiting!

Do you organize an event that’s missing on the list? Don’t forget to register it here!

Check out our website and social media channels for coverage during the weekend.
2019 World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend