Moser making an impact
by Lucas Aykroyd|22 DEC 2018
Swiss defenceman Janik Moser made his IIHF debut at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia. He and goalie Akira Schmid want to shine at the upcoming World Juniors.
photo: Steve Kingsman / HHOF-IIHF Images
Janis Moser is an AC/DC fan, and his favourite song is “T.N.T.” In a case of life imitating art, the 18-year-old Swiss defenceman has indeed been dynamite this season.

As a Swiss National League rookie with EHC Biel, he’s averaging close to 19 minutes a game, and has four assists in 26 games. He came up through the junior hockey system in the French-German bilingual city in the canton of Berne, and now it’s paid off with a trip to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Canada. Having a big workload doesn’t faze the 183-cm, 72-kg blueliner, who also competed at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia.

“I enjoy it,” said Moser. “It’s great for me to get some experience and feel the intensity of playing 19 minutes in a game.”

Christian Wohlwend, the head coach of Switzerland’s World Junior team for the third consecutive year, offered a strong endorsement: “He’s done fantastic. He’s very smart with the puck. He has patience and he makes good decisions. Physically, he still has a lot of potential. He's one of our five 2000-ers, our five underagers. But I think we’ve convinced him that he’ll make a great tournament.”

In a 5-3 exhibition loss to host Canada at Victoria’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on 19 December, the left-shooting rearguard played on Switzerland’s top pairing with 19-year-old Dario Wuthrich.

“It was really fun,” said Moser of confronting the defending champions. “In the beginning we were a little too anxious, but then I think we came better into the game. We played harder and simpler and became better.”

Switzerland continued with a 4-1 win against Kazakhstan on Friday night.

It’s no surprise that Moser’s favourite player is Roman Josi, the superstar Swiss defenceman of the Nashville Predators. Josi, 28, played a critical role in Switzerland’s two IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship silver-medal runs this decade – particularly in 2013, when he was named Best Defenceman and tournament MVP.

“How he moves in the offensive zone is pretty incredible, and also how complete he is,” Moser said. “He’s not only offensively strong, he's also really, really strong in the defensive zone.”

Moser also remembers 2013 fondly because during the last NHL lockout, both Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin suited up for Biel. They helped to tutor the then-16-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers. At that time, Moser played for the club’s U15 squad.

“I remember one time we warmed up for a game and then somebody came in and said: ‘Kane is here. He would like to come with us on the ice,’” recalled Moser. “And we were like, ‘Whoa! Patrick Kane! Is this real?’ He came out with us and took some shots. Really fun.”

Right now, EHC Biel has several 30-something former NHLers for Moser to learn from. Team scoring leader Damien Brunner, a fellow Swiss, totalled 25 goals and 33 assists in 121 career NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils. Centre Marc-Antoine Pouliot, a Quebec-born 2003 first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, had 21 goals and 36 assists in 192 NHL games.

Two-way defenceman Anssi Salmela played 112 NHL games with New Jersey and the Atlanta Thrashers before splitting his time between the KHL and Sweden in recent years. And goalie Jonas Hiller boasts Biel’s most impressive body of work, as a three-time Olympian, three-time Swiss champion, and veteran of 404 NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames.

“I’ve gotten a lot of advice,” Moser said. “They give me tips on how to play, how to act in different situations.”

The World Juniors can be a tough situation for Switzerland. Their only medal in tournament history was 1998’s surprising bronze. The Swiss have had some close calls at recent World Juniors. They finished ninth in 2015 and 2016 and required a 3-2 win over Belarus last year to avoid getting sent to the relegation round in Buffalo.

So Moser and his teammates know they’re in for a huge challenge as they gear up for Group A in Vancouver. It’ll be hard for them to outgun teams other than Denmark. With all due respect to gifted prospects like Valentin Nussbaumer (2019-eligible) and Philipp Kurashev (2018 fourth round, 120th overall to Chicago), there just isn’t a Nino Niederreiter or Nico Hischier on this roster.

Facing Canada again on 27 December looms particularly large, according to Wohlwend. Switzerland has lost all 22 of its World Junior meetings with Canada since 1979.

“Canada has 337 NHL players,” said Wohlwend. “They have 400,000 junior players. We have 13 NHL players and 16,000 junior players. That's a huge difference. Canada should beat us every day, every night 10-0, with so many players. We have to do an unbelievable job when you think about it, when you compare. You know yodelling? We have very good yodels in Switzerland. If you [Canadian] guys would come to a yodelling competition, you would have no chance! No chance against us!”

Unfortunately, neither yodelling nor AC/DC karaoke counts in the World Junior standings. Still, Moser has a simple, philosophical take on Switzerland’s hopes for a third consecutive quarter-final berth: “If we play well, all is possible.”