Freshman Forward Headed to Sochi
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Yale fans will have a Bulldog to cheer for at the upcoming Olympics, as freshman forward Phoebe Staenz (Zürich, Switzerland) of the women's ice hockey team has earned a spot on the roster for her native Switzerland. She will take part in the games next month in Sochi, Russia.
Staenz was one of 21 players selected for Switzerland's roster. She has extensive experience playing with the Swiss National Team, including three appearances in the IIHF Women's World Championship (sixth place in 2013 in Ottawa, a bronze medal in 2012 in Vermont and a sixth-place finish in 2011 in Switzerland).
"Making the Olympic team was always the goal," said Staenz, who recently turned 20. She was too young to play in the 2010 Olympics, but prior to making the Swiss National Team for the World Championship in 2011 she played for the Swiss Under-18 team for three years.
Her preparation for the upcoming Olympics began in earnest this past summer, when Switzerland held a series of off-ice camps focused on judging the fitness levels of the players competing for spots. After some additional on-ice camps and tournaments, the team used its two most recent international competitions to make the final roster cuts. Switzerland won the Mountain Cup last month in Radenthein, Austria, beating Austria, France and Slovakia; Staenz had a goal and three assists. She also had a goal and an assist in three games at the Nations Cup, which concluded earlier this month in Germany.
It was at the Nations Cup that Switzerland made its final roster cuts. On the night of Sunday, Jan. 5, the players were called to a team meeting and informed that the final cuts had been made. Those in the room were congratulated -- they had made the team. It was a bittersweet moment for Staenz, as the final cuts included one of her closest friends on the team.
Still, Staenz is looking forward to being a part of what she hopes will be a medal-winning effort at the Olympics for Switzerland.
"As a team, there's a lot of synergy and harmony going on at the moment," said Staenz. "There's a lot of chemistry, and we've grown fairly close. Everybody gets along really well. That makes it easier to come together."
Staenz (whose last name is pronounced "Stence") grew up in Switzerland, where she was the only girl in her age group (1994 birth year) playing hockey.
"It's tough, because there were no girls' teams," Staenz said. "I grew up playing hockey with boys my entire life, until I was 19."
She initially became interested in the sport at the age of five, learning about it through a friend at school. Staenz and her brothers eventually began learning the game together.
"I asked my mom to take me to the rink to watch practice," she recalled. "My mom talked to the coaches and got us ice time. She sent us to skating school. She made sure we could skate before we got on the ice."
Staenz also grew up watching the NHL. She did not root for any particular team, but picked Anson Carter as her favorite NHL player as a youngster (she now wears No. 88 for Yale, matching the uniform number of the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane). She was not thinking about playing college hockey in the U.S. until she spent an exchange year in Canada four years ago and played for Pursuit of Excellence. After hearing about the possibility of playing NCAA hockey -- and attending an Ivy League school -- Staenz eventually contacted four schools to express her interest while she was playing for Switzerland's Under-18 team. Yale head coach Joakim Flygh followed up quickly.
"I had seen her play as a 10th grader, and kept her on the radar," said Flygh. "When she expressed interest in our program I knew it was an opportunity we had to jump on."
Staenz was not able to visit the campus until last year, when she was doing a post-graduate year at Choate Rosemary Hall (her parents and brothers had visited the campus prior to that). But throughout the recruiting process she always envisioned herself as a Bulldog.
"I liked Yale from the start," Staenz said. "Even when I had never seen it … I knew I wanted to come here for some reason."
Staenz' experience with the Yale team has justified her instincts.
"The team is great," said Staenz. "The first time I visited we connected right away. It was awesome. Then I visited again and we were almost friends already. Once I got here, fitting in was pretty easy."
In fact, the lone downside to playing at the Olympics is the fact that Staenz will have to leave her Yale teammates and miss several weeks of the 2013-14 Yale season.
"When I was gone now [to play at the Mountain Cup and Nations Cup] I missed them a lot," Staenz said. "I like playing on this team, and I missed the people too. I just like the way we play at Yale. It's fun."
Staenz, a resident of Ezra Stiles college at Yale, has made an instant impact for the Bulldogs. She currently leads the team in goals and points (7-10-17) and is tied for the team lead in assists. She is second in the country in points per game among rookies.
Staenz' selection to the Olympic roster is another milestone for the Yale program. The other Bulldog women's ice hockey players in Olympic history were Helen Resor '09 (USA) and Denise Soesilo '10 (Germany), who played at the 2006 Olympics, and Natalie Babony '06 (Slovakia), who played at the 2010 Olympics. Yale's former head coach, Hilary Witt, is an assistant coach with Team USA this year.
"This is tremendous for our program," said Flygh, who has coached at the IIHF Women's World Championship for his native Sweden. "We want to get this program to the next level, and Phoebe will be a big part of that. She now goes into the Olympics as not just an average player, but one of the best players for Switzerland and one of the best players for her age. We're very proud of her, and we're excited to watch her play."
Prior to coming to Yale Staenz was Boston Globe All-Scholastic and the Division 1 Player of the Year in girls' prep school hockey at Choate Rosemary Hall. She was also league MVP and led her team with 38 goals and 23 assists. The team was New England finalists. Staenz also played hockey for Assabet Valley, winning a national championship.
The Olympic women's ice hockey competition takes place Feb. 8-20. The eight-team tournament starts with teams competing in groups of four. Switzerland is in "Group A" with No. 2 Canada, No. 3 Finland and No. 1 USA. After three games of round-robin play within each group, the top two teams in Group A advance directly to the semifinals (Feb. 17). The third- and fourth-place finishers in Group A play the second- and first-place finishers from Group B (No. 7 Germany, No. 10 Japan, No. 4 Russia and No. 6 Sweden), respectively, in the quarterfinals on Feb. 15. The gold medal game and the bronze medal game are on Feb. 20 at Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Switzerland is currently ranked No. 5 in the world in women's ice hockey. The team finished fifth at the 2010 Olympics and seventh at the 2006 Olympics.
Staenz' family hopes to be able to watch her play in person at the Olympics. Her parents are still in Switzerland, as is her youngest brother, Zachariah. Her brother Yannick attends North Dakota, where he plays intramural hockey, and her brother Joshua plays at The Gunnery.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity