Just how good is Switzerland?
That is one of the more interesting questions in the world of women’s hockey. How close is this national team to the heights it reached when it won bronze at the 2012 IIHF World Championship followed in short order by a bronze at the 2014 Olympics? The Florence Schelling era is over and the Alina Müller era has arrived but this remains a team in transition. The Swiss enter the 2021 Worlds ranked fifth in the world, behind Russia and ahead of Japan.
In Calgary, Switzerland will need to prove that they are still a top-five team in the world.
At the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Espoo, the Swiss were beaten up by the rest of Group A before being knocked out of the tournament by Russia in a 3-0 loss in the quarterfinals.
Switzerland finished the tournament with three goals for and 25 goals against in five games which is absolutely brutal. Do you know what else is brutal? Averaging 10.8 SF/GP. It’s hard to win hockey games when, on average, you’re being out-shot by over 37 shots a game. With that said, we need to keep Switzerland’s schedule in mind when analyzing how they performed a year ago.
The Swiss are a rising power who had the unenviable role of being the weakest team in the strongest group in Espoo. They were measured against the best teams in the world and found wanting, which is not at all surprising. For many years, that has been the role Russia has filled — the worst team in Group A that goes on to beat the best team in Group B in the quarterfinal, thereby proving that they still belong in Group A.
At the 2019 Worlds, the 4th and 5th seed from Group A met, which meant Switzerland never got to test itself against any team from Group B. It’s also why they finished with a depressing 5-0-0 record and a -22 goal differential. But, for context, Russia went 2-5-0 with a -29 goal differential.
Overall, the 2019 Worlds were a rough outing for Switzerland but an important experience for a young roster that is looking for leaders and a supporting cast to emerge around Alina Müller.
Forwards (14): Rahel Enzler, Mara Frey, Emma Ingold, Lena Marie Lutz, Alina Marti, Alina Müller, Evelina Raselli, Lisa Rüedi, Dominique Rüegg, Noemi Ryhner, Phoebe Staenz, Lara Stalder, Kaleigh Quennec, Laura Zimmermann
Defenders (8): Lara Christen, Sarah Forster, Janine Hauser, Nadine Hofstetter, Sinja Leemann, Shannon Sigrist, Nicole Vallario, Stefanie Wetli.
Goalkeepers (3): Andrea Brändli, Saskia Maurer, Caroline Spies
Die verschobene @IIHFHockey A-WM der Frauen unmittelbar bevor. Morgen hebt unsere #FrauenNati Richtung Calgary ab, wo in knapp zwei Wochen die #WomensWorlds starten!— Swiss Ice Hockey (@SwissIceHockey) August 9, 2021
Im Vergleich zum ursprünglichen WM-Kader gab es zwei Änderungen. Alle Infos: https://t.co/3HM0P0LY9N pic.twitter.com/9zJbkPEa5d
Story to Watch | Stalder’s Return and Scoring Depth
When you score one even-strength goal in five games in a World Championship there are naturally going to be questions about your ability to score goals. Not many remember this but the Swiss had to compete without Lara Stalder — one of their two best players — in Espoo. How much difference can one player make in a team sport like hockey? Well, we’re about to find out.
As Mikael Nahabedian points out in his chart below, we should expect Switzerland to have a stacked first line that features Stalder, Müller, and Phoebe Stänz. The question is what the rest of the team will do to take pressure off of that top line and to provide depth scoring.
Here is my projected lineup of Team Switzerland for the upcoming Women's World Championship based on the WHKYe of the players selected.— Mikael Nahabedian (@hunterofstats) August 9, 2021
Switzerland's top line is stacked. The defense core is built around youth and mobility. This team could surprise us during the tournament. pic.twitter.com/f6K9tBiF8m
The Swiss will need the second line, led by Evelina Raselli and Dominique Ruegg, to be productive. At the Espoo Worlds, Raselli led the squad with two goals despite the fact that she missed a game. Ruegg was second on the team in shots (8) behind Müller but put up goose eggs in the score sheet while averaging 18:31 TOI/GP. The Swiss will need both of them to improve on their performance from two years ago if they want to get into the win column in Calgary.
The top-line talent of Müller and Stalder can only carry this team so far. Fortunately for the Swiss, Ohio State’s Andrea Brändli has shown she has the ability to steal a game for her team in the goal crease. She came away from the 2019 Worlds with a .900 Sv% against a suffocating workload.
Key Player | Alina Müller
Stalder will be a must-watch player in the tournament, especially after her historic 82-point campaign in the SDHL, but all eyes will be on Müller. That tends to happen after you score seven goals in six games and tie an Olympic record with four goals in a game at the age of 19.
Müller scored one of Switzerland’s three goals at the 2019 Worlds and led the team with 11 shots on goal. That might not seem like an impressive number at first glance but consider this — she accounted for 20.37% of all Swiss shots on goal in Espoo. That’s one-fifth of the pucks the Swiss managed to put on net. And, of course, everyone on every opposing team was focused on stopping her from doing just that.
The Swiss sensation is coming off an outstanding season of college hockey at Northeastern where she piled up 38 points in 25 games. That was good enough to lead both the Huskies and the nation in scoring. She had 12 multi-point games and also led the nation in shots on goal (124) — an average of 4.94 SOG/GP. So, it’s safe to say that Müller is in her prime and continues to get better with each passing year. She’s special. She’s a must-watch player in this tournament and every tournament she competes in.
Key Youngster | Laura Zimmermann
One of the players that could help Switzerland with its depth scoring is 18-year-old Laura Zimmermann.
This will be Zimmermann’s first major tournament with the senior team after an impressive showing at the 2020 U18 Worlds where she scored four goals and picked up an assist in five games. She also scored a goal and had three helpers for Switzerland at the 2019 U18 Worlds, which placed her on the radars of many as a player to watch for the Swiss.
Zimmermann had a huge year in the SWHL with EV Bomo Thun in 2020-21. She scored 22 goals — more than a third of her team’s total offense — and picked up two assists in 20 games. So, yeah, we can call her a shoot-first player. Coming into the 2021 Worlds, Zimmermann has 36 goals in her last 34 games of SWHL action.
This may not be the tournament where Zimmermann breaks out but look for her to get her chances wherever she lands in the lineup. Personally, I like the idea of her getting sheltered on the third line at evens and getting a look on the top power play unit with Stalder and Müller, but it might be too early for that. Right now, the Swiss are counting on Zimmermann to show flashes of being a player who can be a big part of this team’s core moving forward.
Disclosure: the author of this story is the creator and owner of Their Hockey Counts.