The NCAA connection to Team Switzerland
The Swiss Hockey Federation swept the preliminary round at the Olympics, thanks to some good old college hockey.
With a 2-1 victory over Team Sweden, Team Switzerland found themselves at the top of the Group B standings with a 3-0 record in the preliminary round. While Switzerland has several levels of professional and club level women’s hockey, it is amazing how much contribution the Swiss have gotten from players who went to American colleges.
The NCAA connection runs deep within Team Switzerland as six members played DI hockey, three played DIII, and perhaps the most important one committed to DI next season. Let’s look at the Swiss players who have spent time in the US for university.
We’ll cheat a little with our first player Alina Müller, as she has not attended college yet. Müller is a 19-year old forward on the Swiss national team, who currently has nine points through Switzerland’s three preliminary round games. In her first game against Korea, she tallied a natural hat trick in the opening period and tacked on a fourth goal in the second period.
She ended that night with six total points and has since added three more points in two games to lead all skaters with nine points.
Oh, and she’s going to Northeastern University in the fall.
Müller will be the second Swiss national team member with connections to Northeastern, the first being four-time Olympian Florence Schelling.
Schelling was a standout at Northeastern and one of the best goaltenders in the country. Her .940 save percentage and 1.74 goals against average are the best in program history, and she has the second most saves (2681) and shutouts (18) only behind her successor Chloe Desjardins. Schelling was also a Hockey East Player of the Year and First-Team All American in her senior season. For Team Switzerland, she currently owns a .975 save percentage with a 0.67 goals against average and a shutout over Team Korea.
Another standout for the Swiss National Team has been Lara Stalder, a former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog. Stalder was named a Patty Kazmaier Award top-three finalist, a First-Team All American, the WCHA Player of the Year, and Student Athlete of the Year in her senior season at Duluth. She led the nation with 1.60 points per game with 23 goals and 33 assists. Stalder is now tied for second on the Swiss national team in scoring with five points and tied for third in the tournament right now.
Switzerland’s captain Livia Altmann has been the captain of the Swiss National Team since the 2015-16 World Championship. She is currently a sophomore at Colgate University where she is an alternate captain for the Raiders. Altmann scored two goals and three assists in her freshman campaign, and this season she added two more goals and four assists before leaving for the Olympics.
Nicole Gass also played at Colgate, completing her four years at the university from 2012-2016. Gass’s best scoring season was her second year when she tallied a goal and fifteen assists for sixteen total points on the year. Her best season for goal scoring came in her senior year when ended the year with three goals and six assists. Fun fact about Gass: she has dual citizenship as she was born in Quebec, and her mother played for the Canadian women’s national basketball team!
Phoebe Staenz just completed her senior season with the Yale Bulldogs where she posted a career high fourteen goals as well as ten assists. She was named to the First Team All-Ivy League last year and is playing in her second Olympic games with Team Switzerland. Staenz has three goals so far in Pyeongchang, including the game-winning goal against Sweden that capped off this undefeated start for the Swiss.
The final Division I NCAA player on this team is another Husky — this time from St. Cloud State. Janine Alder is a sophomore at St. Cloud and was named to the All-WCHA Rookie Team in 2016-17. She had a .926 save percentage which was fourth best for a single season in team history. Alder has continued to be the starting goaltender for the Huskies and currently has a .935 save percentage.
But wait, there’s more! Switzerland also has some DIII alumni on the team, including Nina Waidacher who attended the College of St. Scholastica for four seasons, appearing as the captain twice, and putting up 153 points over 90 games. Her older sister, Monika, also played four seasons at St. Scholastica, three of which overlapped with Nina. Monika scored 71 points in 100 games. The youngest Waidacher, Isabel, played a season with St. Scholastica as well.
The Power of the NCAA
American college is a known launching pad for many North American skaters. The entire US National Team played NCAA hockey in addition to their Olympic experience, and many members of the Canadian National Team, including Captain Marie-Philip Poulin, have found their way south of the border to play hockey in the States. To see European skaters increasingly choose to play in America should be exciting for college hockey fans.
It is amazing for a nation like Switzerland, which has a robust system for younger level women’s hockey, to thrive on the Olympic stage because of former NCAA players. There are so many options now for young players to find their path, and if more nations continue to send athletes to NCAA schools, college hockey and the international stage will both improve.