Lara Stalder is the highest non-North American player on The Ice Garden’s Top 25 Under 25 list. To some that may come as a surprise, but fans of the UMD Bulldogs and Swiss hockey know just how special the 23-year-old is.
Stalder is one of the best young centers in women’s hockey. Her 5-foot-6 frame is never the biggest on the ice, but the former Bulldog has never been held back by her size thanks to her quick feet and quicker hands. Her vision and ability to make things happen on the attack makes her a must-watch player in every international tournament.
Stalder’s experience playing defense made her one of the most well-rounded players in women’s hockey. She blocks shots, she wins faceoffs, she draws penalties and she processes the game at an elite level. She does it all.
Stalder is the kind of player who brings out the best in her teammates. She’s happy to draw defenders to her and set up teammates on the power play and at even strength with the space she creates. All of these traits and more have made her a coach and fan favorite on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Stalder broke her ankle before the 2013 Worlds and was worried that the injury would spoil her chance to play NCAA Division I hockey. But the Bulldogs knew generational talent when they saw it.
Before the 2013-14 season, her first in the NCAA, Stalder turned heads as a teenager playing in Swiss Women’s Hockey League with SC Reinach Damen and ZSC Lions Frauen. In 2012-13 she won the league title with ZSC, scoring six goals and adding four assists in seven games at the age of 18.
In her rookie season with the Bulldogs Stalder finished fourth among freshman in scoring while playing defense. Compared to the rest of the nation’s defenders she finished eighth in points thanks to her four goals and 18 assists in 22 games. She missed eight games because of the 2014 Sochi Olympic games, where she won a bronze medal with Switzerland.
After Stalder’s eventful freshman season UMD head coach Shannon Miller moved her to center. The rising Swiss star finished with 29 points in 37 games as a sophomore before taking her game to another level in her junior year.
In 2015-16 Stalder scored 41 points in 37 games, finishing second on the Bulldogs in scoring behind Ashleigh Brykaliuk. She also played in her third Women’s World Championship with Switzerland’s senior team. On the international stage Stalder tied for third in the tournament in scoring with teammate Christine Meier. The hockey world took notice.
The Boston Pride drafted Stalder in the fifth round of the 2016 NWHL Draft despite the fact that a professional career in North America looks unlikely for Stalder. There was no doubt after her junior season that she was rapidly becoming an elite player.
In her senior season the Swiss star led the UMD Bulldogs in goals, assists, shots, face off percentage, plus/minus and power play points. In other words, Stalder was absolutely sensational in 2016-17. She also led the nation in points per games played, with a scoring rate of 1.60 P/GP. Again, the hockey world took notice.
Stalder won the WCHA Player of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year as a senior. She was also Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award finalist and finished tied for fourth in the nation in scoring. Needless to say, she finished her college hockey career with an exclamation point.
Stalder’s first season in Sweden with Linkoping HC has already begun, but in several months time she will back wearing red and white for her home country. Stalder is expected to be one of Switzerland’s leaders at the Pyeongchang Olympics. And she will have a lot of eyes on her and coaches making game plans to slow her down thanks to her performance last season.
Stalder helped punch Switzerland’s ticket to Pyeongchang by scoring two hat tricks during Olympic Game Qualifying play last year. In three games she scored eight goals and picked up four assists. To put that into perspective, her Swiss teammates had six goals combined. She was a woman on a mission.
As a teenager the Swiss dynamo scored two points in five games at Sochi. It’s a pretty safe bet that Stalder will be making a much bigger impact in Pyeongchang. But will she be able to guide Switzerland to its second consecutive Olympic medal? We will soon find out.
Regardless of what happens in Korea the future of Stalder’s hockey career is about as bright as they come. For the time being it appears that it will unfold in Sweden with Linkoping HC after Pyeongchang, but a future in the CWHL or NWHL isn’t completely out of the question. Until Stalder hangs up her skates she will be a fixture on the Swiss national team.
Is This Ranking too High or too Low?
The closer we get to the top of our Top 25 Under 25 rankings here at The Ice Garden, the more heated the debates of our rankings will become. With that being said, there’s no doubt that Stalder is one of the best young players in the world and that she belongs high on this list. The number of players who are decidedly better than her (under the age of 25) can almost certainly be counted on one hand.
Her NCAA numbers might not be as gaudy as some of her peers, but there’s a lot more to Stalder’s game than goals and assists. She plays a complete game. She’s the kind of player you’d want to build a team around because she does so many different things so well. But comparing Stalder and her versatility to a Swiss Army Knife simply doesn’t give enough credit to her skill level. Simply put, she’s one of the best in the world with and without the puck.