Swiss forwards Jonas Taibel and Miles Muller are in their second and third seasons respectively with the QMJHL franchise that plays at the Avenir Centre. So getting to suit up together for their native country in a 3-2 overtime upset over Finland on Day One of the World Juniors was a whole lot of fun in familiar surroundings.
Taibel, 18, was named Switzerland’s Player of the Game after notching two assists, including a nice centering pass on Lorenzo Canonica’s mid-second period goal to make it 1-1. He got some big cheers from the Avenir Centre crowd of 4,465.
The 2018-opened Avenir Centre is one of Canadian major junior hockey’s most beautiful facilities. Built at a cost of $113 million CAD, it has a capacity of 8,800 and still feels brand-new inside. The arena’s outdoor plaza includes a rink for outdoor skating, a bandstand featuring live music during these World Juniors, and more.
Muller, 19, said he and Taibel made a point of telling their Swiss teammates that they were in for a treat in New Brunswick’s biggest city (metro population of 150,000).
“We gave them a heads-up that the rink is actually very nice!” said Muller. “They weren’t sure coming in because of course it’s a junior rink. But we let them know it’s a great place to play in. And we told them about the city and some of the local highlights. Of course, we haven’t really got time to visit [Moncton] too much. But we will take it step by step.”
Asked to identify his favourite aspects of playing at the Avenir Centre, Muller said: “I would say the locker room. It’s actually insane! I find it so, so nice. And also, I like the lighting on the rink. It makes everything clear, smooth and just great.”
And how about adapting to the North American game here over the past couple of seasons?
“If you talk about the rink size, I would say at first it’s very kind of difficult,” Muller said. “Especially the speed. Like, the boys here are already flying. With the smaller ice surface, it’s even faster. So you gotta adapt. But now I would say I call this my second home. To be honest, I like it so much!”
In 28 QMJHL games apiece this season, Muller (6+7=13) and Taibel (2+11=13) have both scored the same number of points. They’re also in lockstep when it comes to their desire to help the Wildcats rejoin the QMJHL’s elite. Moncton won the league title in 2006 with familiar names like Keith Yandle and Brad Marchand and again in 2010 with David Savard and Brandon Gormley.
But right now, first and foremost, these Swiss Wildcats are hungry to help their country make the World Junior quarter-finals. Switzerland, which finished eighth at the 2022 World Juniors, hasn’t medaled since 1998’s bronze.
Even winning a quarter-final would be a big accomplishment for this year’s unheralded squad. The last Swiss QF victory was a 2-0 upset over Sweden at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre at the 2019 World Juniors.
After beating another big Nordic hockey power to kick off the 2023 tournament, Switzerland has boosted its playoff hopes. But Muller offered a balanced perspective on the post-game vibe at the arena he’s grown to know and love.
“The players were pumped. The boys were buzzing in the locker room! But we know this tournament has just started and all the teams are good here. And tomorrow, it’s a new day.”