THN in Sochi: Swiss women craft own Miracle on Ice

For just the fifth time ever and the first time in Olympic history, a team other than Canada, USA, Finland or Sweden has won a medal. The Swiss accomplished the feat with a gutsy, come-from-behind 4-3 win over Sweden in the bronze medal game.

SOCHI – In the history of women’s hockey at the international level, including the medals in these Olympics, there will have been a total of 78 medals awarded in the Olympics, World Championships and Under-18 World Championships. Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden have won all but five of them.

So it’s not often that a team such as Switzerland manages to crash the party. But if these Olympics have taught us anything, at least when it comes to the hockey tournaments, it’s to never, ever be surprised. Despite falling behind 2-0 after two periods, the Swiss women scored four straight goals in the third period to defeat Sweden 4-3 and win the bronze medal. It represents the first time ever that a team other than Canada, USA, Finland or Sweden has won a medal.

It represented something of a triumph for women’s hockey and having a team other than The Big Four win a medal is a significant achievement. The gap between USA and Canada and everyone else in the women’s game remains quite large, but Switzerland is definitely improving. The Swiss won the bronze medal in the 2012 Women’s World Championship, then Russia won the bronze in 2013, before Switzerland executed their bronze medal miracle in Sochi.

Things are looking up for Switzerland. Their goalie, Florence Schelling, stopped 45 shots against Canada in the semifinal and at just 25 years old, figures to be with the program for a long time. Alina Muller, who scored a goal and an assist in the bronze medal game, turns 16 years old in three weeks.

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“For us to be able to come back in the third period, I’m just so proud to be a part of this absolutely amazing team,” Schelling said. “I definitely believe that us winning this medal today is a huge step in us closing the gap against the North American teams.”

One of the most compelling things about the women’s game is that it is played by people who have compelling stories off the ice. Schelling, for example, works in the IT department at the International Ice Hockey Federation. Jessica Lutz, who scored the goal that put Switzerland ahead 3-2 in the third period, was born in Washington to a Swiss father and American mother and played collegiate hockey at Connecticut. Lutz stays sharp by playing in a men’s league at the Washington Capitals practice facility. Her father is an agricultural economist at the World Bank in Switzerland and when she’s not playing hockey, she’s a barista at a Washington coffee shop.

Most of the players are fluent in three languages – German, French and English – with the team language being High German most of the time.

“The lines switched up a little bit during this tournament so there was one time I was on a line with players with four different mother tongues,” Lutz said. “There was French, German, Italian and English. That’s pretty representative of our team.”