Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – As the Olympic women's hockey tournament gets underway this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea, MacEwan Griffins forward Dominique Scheurer will be watching intently.
The native of Bern, Switzerland knows every player representing her home country and was, as recently as a year ago, still on the radar to make the Swiss Olympic roster.
"I'll be following it pretty closely," she said. "Even though I didn't make the team and had a few problems with the coach, they're still all my friends, close friends, too. I'm definitely going to watch their games and try to support them."
Scheurer is particularly good friends with Isabel Waidacher, with whom she played on Switzerland's team at the 2012 U18 world championship, and goalie Janine Alder, who is one of two Swiss team members who play in the NCAA (St. Cloud State).
The Griffins forward last wore her country's colours in an evaluation tournament for the Swiss Olympic team in December 2016 when they attended a four nations competition in the Czech Republic. She estimates she was among the top 40 players in the country, but didn't make the final cut for Pyeongchang.
"It just didn't happen for the actual top 20," she said.
Griffins goaltender and fellow Swiss native Sandy Heim was also on the radar for Team Switzerland, but her road ended when she was unable to attend an evaluation camp last summer because of an injury requiring surgery.
The Swiss are in tough to repeat their historic feat of winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (their first of any colour). Unlike four years ago when they automatically qualified for the quarter-finals, they're in Group B this time around – needing to finish as one of the top two teams out of themselves, Sweden, Japan and host Korea.
The four Group A teams – Canada, USA, Finland and Russia – all automatically qualify for at least the quarter-finals, but the top two get byes into the semifinal games.
"If I'm very honest, I think their chances went down," said Scheurer of her home country. "I think the last Olympics they were in the A group, so you can lose every game and still make it to quarter-finals.
"This year they're in Group B, so they would have to actually win to get into quarter-finals. That will make it harder. I also think the selection of the players is very different than it was."
Given Canada's lofty standing in the women's hockey world rankings – they've won the last four Olympic golds in a row – Scheurer won't be making any bets with her Canadian teammates should the Swiss advance to play the Red and White.
Back on Feb. 4, the Canadians whipped the Swiss 10-0 in a pre-Olympic tournament game. Shannon Szabados, who previously played men's hockey for the MacEwan Griffins, made 16 saves for the shutout.
For Scheurer, there are takeaways from her time spent in Swiss camp.
"What I learned the most is, I think, talent-wise I could be on the same level as most of the players on the Swiss team, but it's more the fitness and the strength that those players (have) that is a little ahead of me," said Scheurer, who still holds a dream of one day playing for her country in the Games. "That's something I can work on, so maybe for the next Olympics."
In the meantime, she sure means a lot to the Griffins, who are heading into the stretch run of their season, aiming to defend the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship they won last March. In 20 games so far this season, Scheurer has eight points.
She'll lead MacEwan (14-3-3) into their first action in two weeks this Saturday (6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) when they come out of a bye week to host the Olds Broncos (6-15-1). The first game of the weekend series between the teams was supposed to go Thursday night in Olds, but it was postponed due to inclement highway conditions. It will be played on Feb. 15 (7 p.m.).
Scheurer has made a successful transition from defence to forward over the past two years, but her instincts for the nuances of both positions remain.
"Her versatility, as well as ability to see the game from both perspectives, has helped develop her game as both a forward and defenceman," said Griffins head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "Though she is able to pull experience from playing both positions at a high level, Dominique is one of our most offensive forwards, as we look to her regularly to create high percentage scoring chances."
Although, Scheurer notes playing defence is "like riding a bicycle – you never really forget," she admits forward is the right fit for her game now.
"I love playing forward," she said. "It was hard for me last year to go try out for the national team because they still had me down as a D.
"I like both, but I definitely lost some of the D qualities that I used to have."
Nevertheless, what she has brought to MacEwan since first coming her in 2015, has been tremendous, says McAlpine.
"The exciting thing for Dom in terms of her International experience with the Swiss national team, is the development runs both ways," said the coach. "What she has been able to bring to MacEwan in terms of experience, different perspectives of the game, and high-performance development (has been great).
"(Coming to) MacEwan and the opportunity to play hockey in Canada has reversely added these various elements to her game from a different lens."