For hockey fans in New Brunswick, Christmas came a day late this year, with Monday marking the start of the 2023 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
This is the first time Moncton will play a role in the international tournament as it co-hosts the event with Halifax.
Fans began to line up outside the Avenir Centre in downtown Moncton over an hour before the first game.
“A chance to see World Junior hockey this close to home and this caliber of hockey is not something we get to see every day,” said fan Devon Judge.
Judge and his friend Donnie MacDougal travelled about two and a half hours from Woodstock, N.B., to take in the games.
When asked about how many games they expect to attend, Judge said, “I got a full (tournament) package,” when MacDougal laughingly chimed in, adding, “I’m with him!”
While the World Juniors are a dream come true for hockey fans, Bill Whalen, the co-chair of Team Moncton, the local organizing committee, said their focus was a fan experience geared towards the entire community.
“Not everybody is going to go in the hockey rink, and we want everybody in Moncton, Riverview, and Dieppe to be part of this, and we want the visitors in our community to feel welcome,” Whalen said ahead of the tournament’s first game.
There will be food and entertainment, in addition to a number of activities scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Operating the Moncton portion of the tournament required 150 volunteers, but Whalen noted they received over 250 applicants.
“People have a great passion to welcome the world and be part of events when they come to Moncton, so I wasn’t surprised.”
Unlike most years, organizers for the 2023 World Juniors had mere months to plan rather than the typical two years.
Originally, the tournament was to be hosted in Omsk, Russia, before the tournament rights were pulled due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It went smoothly. I (got to) say, much smoother than expected,” Whalen remarked of the organizing process.
Besides hockey fans, perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of hosting the World Juniors are the local businesses.
At La Factrie, a small coffee shop across from the Avenir Centre, flags from the countries playing in Moncton hang outside. Below each flag is the word coffee written in each country’s respective language.
As part of Group B, Switzerland, Latvia, Slovakia, the U.S. and Finland will play in Moncton.
“(My husband) just decided to put the flags on of the teams that are gonna be playing around here, and it’s been a good turnout, we’ve heard good comments about it,” said Dany Levesque, the co-owner of La Factrie.
After opening just a few months ago, Levesque said they are more than happy to be welcoming more visitors during an already busy season.
“I believe it’s gonna be just positive, having great people enjoying great coffee, so I think it’s gonna be a good impact on the business for sure.”
When it comes to the importance of Moncton’s success as a World Juniors co-host, Whalen said, “you win your next great event based on the success of this one.” He added that he’s confident Moncton can shine on the international stage.
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