During a month with little to no noteworthy news in hockey, a professional hockey team half a world away—Switzerland’s SC Bern—made history when they hired 31-year-old Florence Schelling as their new General Manager. Schelling was announced on April 8th as the new General Manager, making her the first female GM of a professional men’s team in hockey.
SC (Schlittschuh Club) Bern plays in Switzerland’s top professional hockey league, and has been the European hockey team with the highest average attendance for 18 years in a row. Last season, the team averaged 16,290 fans per game, despite finishing ninth out of 12 teams after a championship season in 2018.
You may recognize the name—SC Bern is (tentatively) scheduled to be the Nashville Predators’ final preseason opponent of the 2020-21 season as part of the NHL Global Series. However, SC Bern has been home to many familiar names over the years:
SC Bern’s Notable NHL Alumni
|Nashville Predator Alumni||Notable NHL Alumni|
|Nashville Predator Alumni||Notable NHL Alumni|
|Roman Josi||John Tavares|
|J.P. Dumont||Nico Hischier|
|Sebastien Bordeleau (Currently works for Nashville in Player Development)||Cory Conacher|
This month’s announcement is just one in a long line of accomplishments in Schelling’s amazing career. She began playing youth hockey in Switzerland on boys’ teams—as there were no youth girls’ teams—and then made her Swiss Women’s National Team debut at the age of 14. In 2003, Schelling became the first woman to play in the men’s Swiss National League B for the ZSC Lions in Zürich, in the country’s second-level professional hockey league.
She enrolled at Northeastern University in 2008 playing alongside some of the best women’s hockey players in the world, including Kendall Coyne Schofield. She was a finalist in 2012 for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the best player in women’s collegiate hockey, and played on three Swiss Olympic teams—including the one that won a bronze medal in Sochi.
Schelling returned to Europe in 2015 to play for Linköping HC in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League. She retired from hockey in 2018 and turned to consulting and coaching. Then, approximately one year ago in February 2019, Schelling was injured in a skiing accident in Switzerland and suffered a severe spinal injury that took months of rehab to overcome. Undeterred and wanting to return to hockey in some capacity, Schelling took a job as a coach of the Swiss U18 team.
Of course, only thirteen months after her accident, Florence Schelling was contacted by SC Bern as one of two finalists for the team’s General Manager position. I was lucky enough to speak with Florence both prior to and after the announcement was made, and she spoke with On The Forecheck about her career, women in sports, breaking barriers and the history she made only a few weeks ago.
Schelling, on her playing career
Bryan Bastin, On The Forecheck: How did you get started as a young woman playing hockey? What were some of the difficulties you faced?
Florence Schelling, General Manager, SC Bern: I started playing when I was 4 years old in an all boys team as the only girl. At the time it never really mattered that I was a girl, I was just part of this awesome team. Difficulties (if any) would only arise in the teenage years, however I was lucky to never have faced too many.
Bastin: I would love to hear more about your time with the ZSC Lions in Zürich—your accomplishment there is something extraordinary! What were the benefits? What were the challenges?
Schelling: Thanks to the GCK / ZSC Lions organization I became the goalie that I was. I was able to benefit from the best development that one could wish for. I was fully included in all the men’s team and accepted by all the coaches. I was challenged a lot, which made me better and better. I benefited from a full support system, from the clubs president down to every single coach and teammate. The challenges were that I was the only women in the entire league. Sometimes that was rough, but my performance always helped me “shutting people up”.
Bastin: You had quite a career while at Northeastern! What changes did you have to adjust to when you came to Boston to play for the Huskies?
Schelling: Cultural changes were the biggest changes and the fact that I played in an all women’s team, all season long. First semester was tough, so tough that I almost quit. But then I remembered that I’m not a quitter and I feel in love with the school and the city and never wanted to leave again.
Bastin: What was the experience like when you played the University of New Hampshire at Fenway Park in the first ever outdoor women’s hockey game?
Schelling: It was such a great experience! I like looking back to that game. I don’t remember much of the game anymore, but I do remember the atmosphere, the view and just how special it was. I feel very humbled to have been part of the first ever outdoor women’s hockey game.
On her career with the Swiss National Team
Bastin: As your skill grew, what changes did you see as you started to approach the possibilities of playing with the Swiss National team?
Schelling: I became part of the Swiss national team when I was 13 years old. I never thought about that possibility because it was unknown to me at the time. It was my goal to become the national team goalie for the men’s. It was only when I received the phone call from the women’s national team head coach that I found about the women’s national team.
Bastin: You had a wonderful run with the Swiss national team—what things did you take away from playing with the best in your country and the best in the world every few years?
Schelling: There’s a lot of takeaways from that time. Hockey is a life school, wherever I went or whatever I did, I took stuff with me. Positive and negative aspects and tried to further develop myself. All those experiences, will help me in my work career.
Bastin: As you know, I was very excited to share the news with my readers on your new position of Head Coach of the Swiss U18 team. What experiences in your life can you bring to help develop these young players at the beginning of their careers? [Author’s note: this section of the interview was conducted prior to the news of her position with SC Bern]
Schelling: It was a great year as the Head Coach of the U18 national team. The most important experience that I want to get to them is that everything is worth it in the end, the hard and many practices, all the travelling and sacrifices one needs to make. It is all worth it. They have to believe in their dream and in their ability to achieve that dream that they have. It won’t always be an easy path, but it’s worth overcoming obstacles and looking back and seeing how far you’ve come.
On her new role as major professional hockey’s first female General Manager
Bastin: What do you think you bring to the table as General Manager for SC Bern?
Schelling: I bring a fresh pair of eyes to the table. I have experience from playing in USA, Canada and Sweden as well as in men’s hockey in Switzerland. Additionally I have a Master in Business Administration.
Bastin: You’ve been a highly influential person in hockey (not just women’s) and you broke new ground being hired: how do you plan to use your position to continue spreading the game?
Schelling: My primary goal is to do good work as a GM. The most important task is to choose the right players and the right coach and to give them maximum support so that they become a conspired and goal-oriented unit.
Bastin: What will be some of the first things you’d like to accomplish as general manager?
Schelling: We need to hire a [new] head coach for the upcoming season and sign two additional import players. With the current COVID-19 situation, a lot is still up in the air.
Bastin: Where do you think the team stands as of now and where are you looking to improve?
Schelling: SC Bern has been following a strategy over many years and has done so very successfully. Will have to read into the strategy, talk to players and staff and see where changes should be made.
Bastin: If the COVID-19 pandemic ever is brought to a halt and we’re able to play hockey once more, what kind of experience are you looking forward to with the NHL Global Series and the Predators (with Swiss players Roman Josi and Yannick Weber) coming to play Bern?
Schelling: I take it one day at a time. [Author’s note: I think this might be something that is very much in question with the current health situation]
Hockey thoughts and advice
Bastin: What kind of advice would you give young girls and women either currently playing the game, or wanting to get into it? How has the hockey world changed in your time in regards to women in the sport?
Bastin: Who is the best player you’ve ever played against?
Schelling: Marie-Philippe Poulin
Bastin: If you could change the outcome of just one game in your career, which would it be?
Schelling: Sochi Olympic Games 2014, Semifinal vs Canada where we lost 3-1. I wish I could change that outcome to us winning that game!
Bastin: Who do you believe are the best up and coming skaters in both Switzerland, as well as the world?
Schelling: Alina Müller for Switzerland and I believe she’ll become one of the best players in the world in the next couple of years.
Bastin: Who are your top 5 goalies in women’s hockey?
Schelling: Kim Martin, Noora Räty, Shannon Szabados, Kim St. Pierre, and Jennifer Harss
Bastin: What advice would you have for young women wanting to get started in hockey—or even pursue it as a career?
Schelling: Have fun doing it, that’s the most important!
Thanks to Florence for her time, in what must be an incredibly busy time in her life. You can follow Florence on Twitter (@Schellingf) as well.
Author's note, 29 April 2020: A caption provided by Getty for an image used in this story misidentified a companion of Schelling. The photo has been removed from the story, and a replacement will be added in the near future.