Alina Müller may have stolen the show for Switzerland at Pyeongchang 2018, but she isn’t the only European player to finish our Top Five both years. That designation belongs to another Swiss star: Lara Stalder.
Last season Stalder was ranked fifth in our Top 25 Under 25. So, what has changed in the last year? Well, Stalder finished fifth in our voting again. Her brilliance last season in the SDHL with Linköping HC demanded our attention. When she stepped up for Switzerland on hockey’s biggest stage in Pyeongchang, we simply couldn’t stop watching. Stalder is an elite center and a gamebreaker — she’s one of the most gifted hockey players in the world.
I documented Stalder’s impressive collegiate career with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in last year’s Top 25 Under 25, but let’s go over the major points again. She scored 148 points in 134 games for the Bulldogs. In her senior season she led the UMD Bulldogs in goals, assists, shots, face off percentage, plus/minus, and power play points. Stalder wrapped up her NCAA career by taking home honors as the WCHA Player of the Year and Student-Athlete of the Year. She was also a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, and many believe she should have been the first non-North American player to win the highest honor for an individual in women’s college hockey.
As impressive as Stalder’s tenure with the Bulldogs was, her international career with Switzerland is even more jaw-dropping. She scored 12 points — including eight goals — in three games for Switzerland in Olympic Qualifiers for Switzerland in 2015-16. She followed that up with 27 shots on net, two power play goals, and six points for Switzerland in six games at Pyeongchang.
Stalder averaged 23:50 time on ice per game at the Olympics. Switzerland leaned on its best players from day one, and she never buckled under the pressure. Time and time again she rose to the occasion for Switzlerand as a superb three-zone center. Stalder finished the tournament with third on the team in shots and with a team-best 69.23 percent faceoff winning percentage. She did it all for Switzerland.
As if the show she put on in Korea wasn’t enough, Stalder also led the SDHL in goals as a rookie. She scored 39 goals in 36 games in one of the best women’s leagues in the world in her first year after college hockey. In classic Stalder fashion, she stepped up her game when it mattered most. She led her team in points with four goals and three assists in nine playoff games, but it was not enough to get past Luleå HF/MSSK in the final.
In case anyone had any doubts, Lara Stalder of Linköping still leads the #SDHL with 31 goals in 28 games played, 48 points overall.— Meredith Foster (@fosterwrites) January 20, 2018
If you like to gamble, you can’t make a much safer bet than Stalder being a star for Team Switzerland for at least the next four years. She’s a lock to make the national team roster for Beijing 2022. If Stalder continues to develop chemistry with Müller and Phoebe Stanz, the blue lines of opposing national teams are going to start losing sleep, if they haven’t already.
In many ways it’s hard to evaluate just how good Stalder is because of the impact she has had on Team Switzerland. We almost never see players with her kind of accolades develop outside of North America. Can she help lead this exceptional generation of Swiss talent to new heights without Florence Schelling in the crease? We will get our first look at an answer to that question at the 2019 Women’s World Championship.
At the age of 24 Stalder has established herself as an elite player at every level of women’s hockey. She will continue to be a force in the SDHL next season, and might even be the first woman not named Michelle Karvinen to lead the league in scoring in four years. That’s how good Stalder is, and we still haven’t seen the best of her.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
Is Stalder finishing fifth in our rankings too high? That is up to you, but keep in mind that she is a generational talent for her country and living, skating proof that the women’s game is growing rapidly beyond the borders of Canada and the United States. She may be the most versatile player in the women’s game in addition to being the best player in the world not from North America or Finland. If that doesn’t earn someone a spot near the top of our T25-U25 list, I don’t know what does.
Sure, her college stats don’t always impress when compared to other elite players. But what would those numbers looked like if she played at Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Clarkson? What would her numbers in international tournaments look like if she was on the roster of Team Canada or Team USA? We will never know, but asking those questions helps us understand just how exceptional Stalder is and has been. And the scary thing is, she’s only just getting started.