When you are a young teen hundreds of miles away from home, your hockey billets pretty much become like family.
Zdeno Chara of the Ottawa Senators celebrated his first NHL contract by purchasing a vehicle for his Western Hockey League billets in Prince George, where he starred on defence for the Cougars.
Vernon’s Ken Holland never forgot the family who provided food and lodging for him when he minded net for the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers. Holland invited the billets to his parents’ backyard Stanley Cup party after his Detroit Red Wings won in 1998.
In Vernon, former alderman Jack Gilroy left Vancouver to play Junior A hockey for the Vernon Essos. He stayed with team owner and GM Vern Dye’s family in the East Hill and later married Vern’s daughter, Wendy.
The North Okanagan Knights of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League are looking for volunteers to take in young players for the upcoming season. Billet families receive $625 a month.
“We definitely need about six families who can take one or two players,” said acting GM Dallas Keller. “We will need billets starting Aug. 24, a week after training camp. The billet family experience, in most cases, becomes a lasting relationship between the player, the players family and the billet family. Our hockey players in the past have served as great role models not only in their community but also to the people that surround him. Often the billet family through this experience have gained another family member that lasts a lifetime.”
Marlese Hutter has taken on the role of billet co-ordinator for the Junior B Knights. She has had a home in Armstrong for 20 years.
“During that time, she lived in Osoyoos (Junior B Coyotes) for three years where she was introduced to billeting hockey players. Originally, Marlese was very hesitant about having a hockey billet as she had two young girls at the time but said she would do it all again as these young men become part of your family.
“Over the years, Marlese has billeted 10 hockey players from across Canada as well as several international exchange students. She has developed amazing lifelong friendships with her billets and their families. Marlese is a coroner for the North Okanagan and has always worked in health care management providing housing care to seniors, individuals with developmental disabilities and to children in foster/care homes.”
Hutter and her husband, Keven, recently purchased acreage and are in the process of opening Bear Necessities Bed and Breakfast to help accommodate hockey families who come to visit and watch their loved ones play hockey.
Billet families are responsible for providing a private bedroom, healthy meals and snacks, internet and telephone access and access to laundry facilities. If you would like more information or are able to open your home to a Junior B hockey player aged 16-20, contact Marlese Hutter at 250-689-0688 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.