After Florence Schelling retired from hockey in 2018, she became a consultant. He hates it. “That’s really not my type of work,” said Schelling, the long-time goalkeeper of the Swiss national team. “I really don’t like that.” Six months later, he stopped, and in February 2019 went on a ski vacation to the Swiss Alps to clear his mind.
One day on a slope, Schelling crashed into a windbreak. The end of the skis stuck in the snow and he fell forward, his head touched the ground first. He was hospitalized with a spinal cord injury, and was told that recovery would be long.
“That kind of turned my life upside down,” Schelling said. “That makes me think a lot. Before, I was a person who barely had free time. Suddenly I had a lot of time, because all I could do was lie down.”
When Schelling was rehabilitated, he began to think of his path to that point, and what he wanted to achieve. He knew he wanted more. And he realized he wanted to go back to hockey.
Then, at the end of March, Schelling got a call from Marc Luthi, CEO of SC Bern, a professional men’s hockey team in Switzerland. Bern is looking for a new GM, and the search committee identifies Schelling as one of two favorites. At first Schelling was surprised – “I thought it was just a joke,” he said – which quickly turned into intrigue. After a long series of conversations and interviews, SC Bern gave the name Schelling as the new GM. He is only 31 years old.
In announcing the recruitment, Luthi noted that Schelling got the job because “he was young, [will] bring new perspectives and break down existing structures. “Those who know Schelling best say he is uniquely prepared to handle pressure.
“I was thrown out of the water and definitely shocked by the news,” said Finnish goalkeeper Noora Raty, who has been competing with Schelling for almost 15 years. “We have seen some women in the front office. But to become GM, who is really the heart of the team, for a big professional men’s club, that’s the main thing. But then getting to know Florence, I knew he would do a great job. He was perfect for this. “
Luthi also acknowledged that in his new role, Schelling would become a “pioneer, perhaps in the whole world.” And people around hockey have considered the ripple effect.
“It takes a lot of courage to be the first of something,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield of Team USA, a former Schelling teammate at Northeastern University. “It takes a very strong woman to be the first, and that is Florence. But that does not mean the second is less strong. After the barrier is broken, the floodgates open. I think women see the announcement of Florence’s new role and their heads start spinning, thinking: “Can it be me someday? Can I do that? I didn’t know that was an option for me.” “
Schelling grew up outside Zurich with two older brothers. “They always play hockey in the garage with tennis balls,” he said. “I always wanted to play with them. They always said, ‘No, no, no, you can’t do that.’ But then at one point they said, ‘You can play with us, but you will be clean.’ “She’s only 4 years old, but she’s experienced.
There was no league of girls in Switzerland at the time, so Schelling played with boys. “I didn’t even know woman hockey existed,” he said. “I grew up playing with children, year after year. But that’s fine, I’m always good enough to play with them.”
At the age of 14, Schelling made his national team debut for Swiss women. And then in 2008, he enrolled at Northeastern University. “Having Florence is really a turning point for this program,” said Huskies coach Dave Flint. “We struggled a bit when I took over. I was lucky; you could say the best goalkeeper in the world was committed. And being a former goalkeeper myself, I always knew how important it was to build your team around a good goalkeeper. He helped put us back on the map. “
Schelling was finalist Patty Kazmaier in 2012, but what stood out to her teammates was how she handled herself. Schelling, who is fluent in four languages (German, English, French and Swedish) is very thorough. “He likes his sanitary pads clean,” said Coyne Schofield. “He doesn’t like the puck marks on his pad.” Schelling also has a signature helmet; he is one of the few destination lenders who still wears a cage helmet combo, popularized by Dominik Hasek.
“He is one of the most powerful players on the ice,” said Flint. “He just flipped the switch, and when he was on the ice, the only thing he wanted was to win. That’s all.”
Coyne Schofield was a freshman when Schelling was a senior and said he “always looked at Florence, and how truly found the balance of being an athlete-student.” Schelling has many friends in hockey like outside hockey. “The group of friends at Northeastern is always very diverse,” said Coyne Schofield. “I like to meet my Florence friends, because they are always so interesting, and I like hearing about their background. Florence is in a business program and she is very serious about her studies. Nobody wears more blazers and professional clothes on campus than Florence – at a time when most of us didn’t even have one blazer. “
After Schelling graduated, he played at CWHL. But in 2014, US and Canadian team players were centered to prepare for the Olympics. “Obviously, the level of play will decrease,” he said. “And I didn’t know what that meant. So I decided to go home.”
Schelling knew the only way he would be truly challenged was to play men’s hockey. “I hired an agent for the first time in my life, and asked him to get me a job in the men’s team,” Schelling said. “And he did it.”
Schelling became the first woman to play in the Swiss second division – only one level below SC Bern. He got 14 start in his first season for EHC Bulach, and had an average of 2.19 goals. “It was a great experience,” he said. “Many of the players on the team are my former teammates, and it’s more like, ‘Hey friends, I’m back.’
In 2014, Schelling again shifted Switzerland to a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics, the country’s first medal. Schelling was named the MVP tournament. “Switzerland is not always in the top division, but it is the heart of the team,” Raty said. “I don’t think they would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for Florence. Because he always stood above his head, and everyone tried to solve Florence’s riddle.”
Schelling returned to female hockey in 2015 when she signed a contract with Linkoping HC from the Swedish Women’s Hockey League, and simultaneously earned a master’s degree in business administration from Linkoping University.
Schelling then began training the Swiss women’s U-18 team. Schelling called out to Flint, and asked if he could get out for an informal apprenticeship. For a week last February, he overshadowed his campus coach. “He wants to know a lot of system things, but he also wants to know about team management,” said Flint, “How do you deal with the players, how do you manage the team. I emphasize to him that X and O are important, but are able to manage your players and understand what moves them is as important. “
SC Bern is one of the most respected teams in the Swiss League and regularly attracts around 16,000 match fans, among the most in European hockey. Bern won the National League championships 16 times, including in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2018-19. But this past season, Bern finished in ninth place from 12 teams.
There will be close supervision of Schelling in this new role, starting with his first assignment: hiring a new head coach. Because he is still rehabilitating from skiing injuries, Schelling is loosening up his new role. Starting this week, he will start working with 50 percent. “I know I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders after I started as GM,” he said. “But as a goalkeeper, who is a very special position on the team, I have often faced pressure, from playing in various World Championships and the Olympics and also at men’s team. I know I just have to do my job, and I have to do my job very, very well. “
Schelling suspected that women usually did not enter management roles because they did not see it as a viable option. And now he is in a position of visibility, he knows many young girls will follow his career. And he wants them to get rid of this message: “There will be many roadblocks. There will be people who don’t support you, but there will be lots of people along the way who will support you too. Stay motivated, move on. And finally, if you work hard, there will be some kind of result. And when you work hard, the results will be positive. “