Alina Mueller craves a challenge. Anything less won’t do. Need proof? As a rookie in the Swiss Women’s League last season, Mueller amassed 50 goals and 80 points in 23 games. Even on her worst nights, she was a force to be reckoned with who seemingly lit the lamp at will en route to dual scoring crowns, all the while her Zurich Lions cruised to the league championship. Sounds like fun, right? Not for Mueller, whose frank assessment of the 2017-18 campaign was that it was “a little annoying.”
This is who Mueller is. She’s a competitor. She believes that iron sharpens iron. And coming from the men’s game, where she played up until her first full-time foray in the women’s game last season, Mueller was used to the night-in, night-out battles that came with skating in Switzerland’s top-flight under-17 league. “It was really fast, we had hard practices, and I think during those three years I really made huge steps forward physically, off the ice and on the ice,” Mueller said. “It prepared me for battles in the corner and gave me a harder shot. I also had to compete every game because we weren’t the best team and we were trying to win against better teams. We played hard every night.”
Mueller wanted more of that, she wanted an opportunity to hone her skills against some of the best talents the world had to offer, and she didn’t want to get away with taking any nights off. She believes she’s found that stateside, where she’s arrived at Northeastern University after committing to the school in November 2017. Not only does she feel she has to be at her very best each time she touches the ice, she enjoys the style of play the college game offers. “It’s harder hockey here in the NCAA,” Mueller said. “In a 1-on-1 in the corner, you’re allowed to use your body more. That’s what I really like. Because I came from boys hockey, I know how to play with my body and use my body.”
Her game log is all the evidence one needs of how much Mueller is enjoying life in the NCAA, too. It has only one blemish. In her debut, Mueller failed to find the scoresheet. In the 22 contests that followed entering late January, she picked up at least a point. The resulting 35 points were good for the fifth-best total in the nation and more than any other freshman had.
Of course, no one should be all that surprised by her overwhelming success in the NCAA. It was about this time last year that Mueller, playing in her second career Olympics, dazzled in Pyeongchang. At an event that featured Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, among others, Mueller earned an all-star nod and beat out several bona fide superstars of the women’s game to capture top Olympic forward honors thanks to her tournament-leading seven-goal, 10-point performance.
That was hardly satisfying for Mueller, however. After becoming the youngest player in Olympic history to win a medal – as a 15-year-old, she scored the game-winning goal, an empty-netter, against Sweden as Switzerland captured bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics – Mueller wanted back on the podium. “The big goal was to be successful with the team,” Mueller said. “It’s one thing for you to have the opportunity to play on Olympic ice and play the best teams in the world, but I’m still disappointed that we didn’t win the quarterfinal. Personally, for me, it was a successful tournament. It’s an honor to be known as the best forward of the last Olympics, but it didn’t change a lot, actually.”
Next time around, Mueller is hoping it can. The point of playing at the highest level possible is so she can use the next three-plus seasons at Northeastern to raise her game and become a difference-maker on the world stage for a Swiss program on the rise. Already, her past experience stands to make her a leader, but Mueller’s goal is to provide an example to the next generation of Swiss women’s players. “It was a huge step to come here for these four years,” Mueller said. “This is what I love, and I’m going to really enjoy these four years now until the next Olympic games.”