An offensive catalyst for Switzerland at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, Lara Stalder’s presence proved critical in reaching the bronze medal game. Taking on a strong leadership role, the highly skilled forward, raised in Lucerne, finished 11th overall in tournament scoring, amassing a solid nine points in seven games played. Scoring the first two goals of the tournament for the Swiss, it marked another exciting highlight in a very proud career.
Having worn the Swiss jersey for over a decade, dating back to when Stalder skated at the 2010 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, some of her greatest moments have taken place on home soil. Gracing the ice in Zurich for the 2011 IIHF Women’s Worlds, the city of Arosa also held a prominent place in her hockey journey. Serving as host city in 2017 for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Switzerland boasted an undefeated mark in Group C play, earning a spot in PyeongChang. Worth noting, the opening game of the qualifier saw Stalder record a hat trick, part of a five-point performance.
Fast forward to 2022, and Stalder earned the ultimate honour as a member of the national team. Named as Switzerland’s captain for the Beijing Winter Games, the achievement held multiple meaning for the jubilant forward. Marking an exceptional career milestone, the privilege of the C on her jersey also elevated her prominence in national team lore, simultaneously burnishing her international legacy.
“It is a very big honor to lead this team and represent Switzerland. I grew into this role and with all the experience I have gained over the years it is in my nature to lead and take responsibility. It is a continuous learning experience to be captain and lead by example.”
Having once skated for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, part of the program’s exceptional legacy of international stars, Stalder accumulated 148 career points. Capturing the 2017 WCHA Player of the Year Award, commemorating a season, which saw career highs in all major offensive categories, she was among a handful of Bulldog alumnae in Beijing. Worth noting, each nation in the medal round featured at least one former Bulldog on their roster. Blueliners Ashton Bell and Jocelyne Larocque skated for Canada, while the US roster featured popular goaltender Maddie Rooney. In addition, goaltender Eveliina Makinen, who spent the 2014-15 season with UMD, grabbed a bronze medal as a member of Finland’s roster.
Coincidentally, Stalder and the Swiss reached the medal round in Beijing with a win over another Bulldogs alumna. Defeating ROC by a 4-2 mark in the quarterfinals, which saw Stalder contribute with a pair of assists, forward Alexandra Vafina, a former Bulldog in 2012-13, skated for the losing team.
Of note, Stalder’s first goal at Beijing came against a former WCHA rival. Scoring Switzerland’s only goal in their opening game, a difficult 12-1 loss versus Canada, she capitalized on a power play opportunity, spoiling the shutout bid of Ann-Renee Desbiens, who set the WCHA record for most career shutouts with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Later during the Games, Stalder maintained the hot hand versus Desbiens. A semifinal match versus Canada saw Stalder involved in all three of Switzerland’s goals, recording a pair on the power play, the only player to do so. With said goals, Stalder became the only player at the Games to score twice in a game versus Desbiens, the eventual gold medal winning goaltender.
Taking into consideration the tremendous amount of star power on the world’s biggest stage, Stalder made a powerful impression in the semifinal contest, providing one of the Games’ finest performances. Undeniably, such an achievement went beyond affirming her standing as one of the brightest stars in Beijing. For a Swiss team that suffered a winless drought during preliminary round play, Stalder and Alina Muller, amassing 10 points in Beijing, proved essential towards their team reaching the medal round.
“My role is to lead this team and create offense. I wish we could have challenged Canada a bit more in this game, as we gained some momentum with all three goals we scored that game.”
As Beijing represented the third Olympic experience in Stalder’s career, her offensive flair burnished an expanding legacy. Enjoying the milestone of a podium finish at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, her inaugural event, Stalder enjoyed six points in six appearances at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Although a podium finish eluded Stalder in 2018 and 2022, the feeling of national pride represented its own treasured milestones.
“Every Olympics is a unique experience in itself. The whole event around and seeing so many different sports competing for an Olympic medal is very special. It also creates an amazing atmosphere with all other Swiss athletes, as everyone supports and cheers each other on, while represent our country.
A closer look to our ice hockey competitions, it was special to see how we grew together as a pack and performed better and better towards the end of the group stage. We got into a flow and everyone started believing that we can achieve something big. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.”
In the aftermath of Beijing, Stalder remained an invaluable contributor on offense. Returning to her club team, Brynas IF, whose roster also features Olympians Denisa Krizova, Rosa Lindstedt, Katerina Mrazova and Maja Nylen Persson, she broke her own record, setting the new standard in league play for most points in a season with 89.
Propelling Brynas to a solid second place finish, logging an additional 14 points in postseason play, Stalder’s sensational season included a regular season scoring title and Forward of the Year recognition, solidifying her standing as a world-class forward.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Featured image obtained from: https://umdbulldogs.com/news/2022/2/12/womens-hockey-stalder-helps-push-switzerland-in-olympic-semifinals.aspx