The Ice Hockey World Championship had been slated to open this weekend, but then came COVID-19. Still the eyes of the hockey world remain on Switzerland, where for the first time a woman has been named GM of a pro team.
The media requests have died down a bit and Florence Schelling is settling into her new job as sporting director and general manager of SC Bern a month after she was named to the post. Not only is she the first woman to hold the position at Switzerland's most successful ice hockey club, 16-time Swiss champions SC Bern, but most of her predecessors were much older than her 31 years.
After a season in which the defending champions failed to qualify for the Swiss National League playoffs, which were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, SC Bern's managing director, Marc Lüthi, believes Schelling is the right person to get the club back on the right track.
"She is young, fresh and intelligent. Whether [the next general manager] would be a man or a woman was not one of our criteria," he said at the official presentation of the new GM. "And she also happens to know a thing or two about hockey."
But there's no denying the fact that this is an extraordinary appointment in a male-dominated sport associated with sweat, testosterone, body checks, and even the odd fight.
"People and players have been treating me quite normally, I'd say. But I don't know how they react otherwise," Schelling told DW.
Outstanding career as a goaltender
Schelling knows the sport extremely well, something that is bound to earn her a certain degree of acceptance among her male counterparts. A goaltender in her playing days, Schelling backstopped the Swiss national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 Ice Hockey Women's World Championship – and was voted best netminder of the tournament. At the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, she almost single-handedly led Switzerland to a bronze medal. That season she also played for second-tier men's team EHC Bülach.
"I always wanted to play for the best teams in the highest leagues I could. So playing with the men was the right fit," she said. Apart from the fact that she had a separate shower, she was just another player on the men's team.
Read more: Leon Draisaitl, an NHL star made in Germany
Such experiences have given Schelling, who first picked up a hockey stick at the age of four, a deep insight into the game. She first found herself between the pipes simply because her brothers played and needed a goalie. The game has been a huge part of her life ever since.
"I don't really know anything else," she said. "I've spent more time with men than with women during my sporting career. I know life in the locker room. I know what goes on in there and what is said in there."
So, this woman would have no problem laying down the law with her male players, should this ever become necessary. But this shouldn't be necessary for a while, with sports in Switzerland, like most other places, shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
But it's not just in Switzerland that Schelling has developed her hockey knowledge. She can also point to experience from playing in the United States, Canada and Sweden – and she also happens to speak four languages. In 2018 she earned a master's degree in business at Northeastern University. Each of these experiences should prove invaluable in her new position.
"I am a very team-oriented and ambitious person," Schelling said.
But her life has not been without its setbacks. Last winter, Schelling broke her neck and sustained a concussion in a skiing accident in Davos. She is still feeling the effects of her injuries.
"Unfortunately, I am not yet able to perform at 100% capacity," she said. "I've started this job with a 50% workload to ensure that I don't overdo things. I am in close contact with my doctors."
Before the accident, Schelling was always on the move. Having to slow down has been a bit of an adjustment.
"It wasn't easy psychologically either because everything around me just kept going, and I couldn't do anything," she said.
Florence Schelling (right) with former Swiss NHL player Mark Streit (left) and IOC president Thomas Bach (center)
So, in a way, Schelling has benefited from the coronavirus pandemic.
"Everyone has had to put the brakes on a bit, and that helped. The world around me has become a little less hectic."
But hockey players could soon hit the ice again. Beginning next Monday, Switzerland is planning to relax restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak. Schelling intends to hold her first video conferences with her players next week. It will be a new experience because of her position, but not because of her gender.
"It's not an unusual situation for me to be the only woman in this men's world," she said.