World Championship Preview: Switzerland

From Olympic medal to World Championship disappointment — what will this Swiss team do in Plymouth?

After Switzerland had qualified for the 2018 Olympics in February, national team coach Daniela Diaz told the media that her aim for this World Championship would be to stay in the top division. You may call it what you want, but this cannot be team Switzerland’s main goal — nonetheless, the bronze medalists from the 2014 Olympics failed to qualify for the World Championship semifinals for two years in a row. What can one expect from this year’s team?

The old guard

For the main part, Diaz has chosen a familiar squad for her second World Championship. In all likelihood, Florence Schelling, who plays for Linköping HC in Sweden, will mind Switzerland’s net. It would be more than surprising to see St. Cloud University’s Janine Alder or youngster Andrea Brändli get an opportunity in Michigan. In case of an injury, however, Diaz can count two very solid backup goaltenders.

Alongside Schelling and Alder, four other players who normally suit up in leagues outside of Switzerland will put on the red and white jersey once again. This group of “import skaters” is led by Minnesota Duluth’s Patty Kazmaier finalist Lara Stalder and Yale’s Phoebe Staenz, and is rounded off by captain Livia Altmann (a defender for the Colgate Raiders) and forward Anja Stiefel, who plays for Luleå HF in Sweden.

In addition, Diaz had originally chosen nine players from the ZSC Lions, the Swiss national champions. Forward Nina Waidacher, who played an outstanding season for the Lions in the Swiss Women’s Hockey League this year, unfortunately injured her shoulder in a training session. She was then replaced by Céline Abgottspon, a 21-year-old defender who plays for SWHL runner-up HC Lugano.

And while it may appear odd to include a 19-year-old in this list of seasoned veterans, Alina Müller is always a player to watch. Three years ago, the then 15-year-old showed her talent and skills to the world with an impressive showing at the Olympics. Now, Müller, who still prefers to play a final season for EHC Kloten’s U17 boys’ team, will return to her third World Championship. In Arosa at the Olympic Qualification tournament, the fierce and determined forward definitely put on a show, scoring eight points (three goals, five assists) in just three games.

And some new faces

Two players to keep an eye on in Plymouth are Lisa Rüedi and Rahel Enzler. The two are World Championship rookies — although Rüedi already played at the Olympic Qualifier — and they are set to make their debut on the big stage. The two 16-year-olds both still play for U17 boys’ teams in Switzerland. At the U18 World Championship, the two forwards put on an impressive performance: Rüedi scored six points (five goals and one assist) in five games; Enzler put up two goals and two assists.

So, what should one expect?

While I certainly believe that Daniela Diaz — and her team — want to notch a spot in the quarterfinals, the preliminary round will not be an easy task for the Swiss team. Basically, it is anyone’s game in Group B. Switzerland is certainly capable of beating Czechia (as they showed in Arosa), Sweden, and Germany. But in the past two years, they failed to win the games that really mattered at the World Championships. This streak might end in Michigan, or Switzerland could play against relegation for the second time in a row.