The Swiss defeated both Hungary and France in this year’s tournament in Kloten. The Swiss were declared tournament champions after their last game against Germany was cancelled due to illness.
“It was great to start the season again, after a long summer that we finally got together again,” Swiss forward Lara Stalder says. “It felt like normal again and it was good to have a home tournament. That was awesome.”
The Swiss team made history in the process. Not only did they earn their first-ever win over the Hungarians,
but the Swiss scored their first goal against their opponents.
Overall, the team wanted to put in a good performance at home.
“We were motivated to go out there with home fans, show them that we can beat them and that we are a better team,” Stalder says. “We showed that we were the best team the whole tournament.”
While they were considered the favourites, the Swiss did not take anything for granted.
“We were supposed to win it, but it's not always easy to play against lower-ranked teams and you always have to perform, even when you're the favorite,” Stalder says. “That was great from a team perspective. We had great team-building activities, and it was a good kickoff. Overall, it was great.”
This tournament was a stepping stone not only for the start of the season but how far the Swiss program has come.
“It shows that we have to beat those opponents, we did, and it was a good preparation,” Stalder says. “I don't think we have to value the tournament too high. It's great to win a tournament like this, have a good start of the year, and see some new faces - some younger players that were with us for the first time, and see that the young generation comes and fits right in.”
The veteran was inspired by seeing how the younger players took on leadership roles, having followed their mentality and progress throughout the summer through her roles with EV Zug’s organization.
“It's great to see them perform well and step up in the way they did because you know the stories behind them and that makes me happy to see them succeed.”
Stalder has worked her way to become one of the most illustrious players in Swiss hockey history. That included her suiting up for the NCAA Division 1 team, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, where she earned a nomination for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Stalder led Brynas to the Swedish Development Hockey League (SDHL) championship, where the team was defeated by Lulea. In 191 games, the forward racked up 402 points (an average of 2.1 points per game). She is third in the league for all-time scoring.
On the ice, Stalder is competitive, creative, and tough.
“I hate losing every little game, it doesn't matter if it's in practice or game,” she says. “I love to distribute, make good plays, have good vision in the eyes of my teammates, and create offense.”
During her career, Stalder has seen the progression of the sport despite challenges and barriers in the sport.
“Back in the days, parents would yell and be like against that girl that plays with the boys and some weird comments,” she says. “Sometimes you get questions like “You play hockey? Isn't that a man sport?” and I think that has changed a lot.”
Not having any role models growing up playing the sport, Stalder was motivated to do more for her country as a builder for equal access and opportunities in the sport.
“In the States, it was different, and it opened my perspective because sports are amazing over there and everyone is accepted,” she says. “Sweden as well; it's a different society and just a little bit ahead of Switzerland and that made me want to fight for something that is already happening in the world.
Now, we started something in Switzerland. Hockey is not only a men's sport. Nowadays, girls have female role models.”
After her time with SDHL, Stalder opted to move back home this past spring to lead the charge in building the game. She joined the EV Zug’s organization, where she works part-time as Assistant to the CEO and as a Project Manager.
The forward will also suit up for EV Zug’s women’s team which will compete in the Swiss women’s “B” League. The team has signed 19 players, with two of them playing with the U17 men's team.
“We train every day together in the afternoon,” Stalder says. “We're semi-professional structured; we have a great facility and our locker room - like little details that we're just not normal in Switzerland and yet kind of like setting the new standard. Now we’re working day by day, and having great games in preparation.”
Highlighting the team are a pair of newcomers in forwards Ivana Maria Wey and Naemi Herzig, who were Stalder’s teammates at 4 Nations. Stalder is thrilled about seeing their progression as the season goes on, especially Herzig, who has been dubbed as the best player in Switzerland in current years.
“It's her personality; when I first met her, I always knew about her name, and she's pretty young,” she says. “She's so mature for her age and she faced challenges in her life that made her stronger. That shows how mature she is already, and she's very much a team player. She's just fun to be around, but she's also very competitive and always wants to get better and put in the extra effort and work. She has a bright future ahead of her.”
With the success of the Swiss national team at 4 Nations and excitement building for this upcoming season with EV Zug, Stalder is full of optimism about the future growth of the game. Coming back home, the forward is humbled by the opportunity to give back to her community.
“We have something special going. It means a lot that I was able to come back home, doing something that is very close to my heart, and building the structures in women's hockey because when I was younger, I didn't have those opportunities. Nowadays, I have a voice, people listen to that voice, and I want to use it to create something bigger than myself. I want to look back and see the structures for girls just like for little boys and that's my motivation.”