Lara Stalder: Beyond The Ice | Issue 6
by Ameeta VOHRA|03 MAY 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Beyond the Ice is a series which Lara Stalder shares her first-hand experience and trailblazing journey from being captain of the Swiss Women’s National Team, an illustrious international player to her leadership role as an assistant to the CEO for the brand new women’s EV Zug team.

Since my new journey started in May, when I went home to Switzerland after 10 years abroad to help build the game, I have learned and grown a lot personally and professionally.

To me, it seemed like years when it was only months.

I learned how to handle life's roller coaster. Even though I experienced ups and downs, I chose to embrace it. I appreciated the highs even more so after experiencing the lows.

Starting the EV Zug project last May and hitting the ice with the team in August, there was one thing I valued the most from the experience: It was the people I met and the connections I made throughout the process. You get to know these people deeper and form special bonds.

The 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship was a full-circle moment. Seeing my EV Zug teammates shine on the international stage made me proud because many of them have never experienced playing for the Swiss national team. I am amazed to see how players like Naemi Herzig and Ivana Wey rose to the occasion. They are future-generation players who proved they could perform at a high level. 

It also triggered my memories of my first Women’s World Championship. I kept thinking how nervous I was in a whole new experience.

At the tournament, I wondered how Ivana and Naemi would react to playing Canada or the United States. It must have been so surreal for them.

I, on the other hand, have played these two powerhouses many times in my career. The old me would have bombarded my new teammates with advice. Instead, I remained calm, didn’t tell them too much of what to do, and let them soak in the experience on the international stage so they could learn from it.

We knew the tournament was going to be tough in Group A. Anytime you have a group with the top five teams, it is never easy. The key was to stay positive and take it game by game and grow as a team.

Sometimes, we have forgotten that we can play against those top teams. We need to prove that we are good enough for the top of the world. I feared that if we took steps back in Utica, no one would want to play Switzerland anymore.

Our national team has worked so hard to be taken seriously as a competitor. Ten years ago, we played friendly games against Norway and Austria in preparation tournaments.

I am proud of how much our team has evolved over the years. We’re playing the likes of Czechia, Sweden, and Finland. The competition level is higher, and it helps our program grow. Girls can play at this level because they know what it takes to compete against those top teams. It’s important to perform well on a stage like Women’s Worlds.

Ivana and Naemi were people I got to know better over the past year and got to see them every day. That meant I witnessed all their success and struggles within their journey.  

Ivana is tough on herself because she feels her play is not always good enough, especially when she makes mistakes. I see a reflection of myself in her because I do the same thing.
Between the time I first met her and now, Ivana has come a long way. She was really shy at first in the locker room, but now she has blossomed like a flower. She has also proven on the ice that she can play on the international level.

When Ivana scored her goal at the tournament, I was so proud. She’s grown and developed so much over this year.

While the bounces didn’t always go our way, I am thrilled they got to experience a high-level tournament. I am happy I got to help these young girls with this new experience. I look forward to them taking over the reins and leading the Swiss national team in 5-10 years.

Thinking back to EV Zug, we have established our foundation in year one. Now, in the coming seasons, we will need continue to build our house, with each step supporting improvements to Swiss women’s hockey, that will make our national team better.

We got through a season in the B League, and it will benefit us as we move to the top league. It will mean different and more competitive games throughout the year. Our skill was of course there, but our development improved thanks to having access to top-notch facilities and structures. 

The season at EV Zug set the bar high, and I set the bar even higher for myself. I want to instill in my teammates that making the national team is only the beginning. As long as I am still performing on the ice, I will continue to use my voice to push for change in women’s hockey in Switzerland. I am going to continue pushing limits. I am going to continue to push the teams’ limits. It will continue to advocate for better structures that enable more and more girls to play hockey. I hope this will open up more professional opportunities and give others a chance to play at that standard.

If we dare to break boundaries, change will happen, but it’s still a process and a journey. If we all help to make Switzerland better, we can succeed at performing at the top international level.  

That’s where we want to belong.