The Backbone of Junior Hockey

Preface to The Backbone of Junior Hockey

I couldn’t bring myself to write this one for along time.

Every time I leave the rink after a broadcast or post game interviews, I always see billet families and the players interacting.

As a journalist the stories shared in those private moments would be endless.

The smiles and warmth amongst family always leaves a lasting impression on me.

I always try to keep my distance, try to avoid, this is their time. Their time to celebrate, their time to console.

Earlier this year I reached out to a billet family when the news broke about a trade involving their newest family member. That exchange was very difficult.

“Today is a tough day for our family.”

There are some stories I just can’t write, but I had to take a shot at this one.

Billet families are the backbone of Junior hockey in this country and their role in players lives are endless.

This is for all them.

The Backbone of Junior Hockey

A home away from home. A second family that will do anything to make their newest member feel at home.

A pillar of support. A pillar of strength. A conduit of emotions between their parents.

Win or lose, their considered family and that bond can never broken.

Billet families are the backbone of Junior hockey in this country.

From coast to coast families open up their homes every year, it might only be for the hockey season, but the bond formed between these young aspiring hockey players and their billet families truly transcends the game.

The connection is almost instant.

Sure there are ground rules and expectations, but all in all everyone understands and embraces their role within the relationship.

Life and in many ways the game itself is built on relationships.

The relationship between billet families, players and their own families is truly inspiring.

The bond forged between families is remarkable.

Game after game, billet families are always there to either congratulate or console.

The bond and connection runs very deep.

Hockey dreams become shared.

From the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows, the triumphs and heartbreaking defeats, billet families are always there.

The late night talks at the kitchen table after games or long road trips become as sacred as the game itself.

It’s hard to keep the smile off players faces or the tears from the eyes of their billet families when you ask them about their connection.

Many billet families are blue collar families, that are obviously very passionate about hockey, who also have young children playing the game as well.

The rink becomes their second home, but they wouldn’t change it for the world.

The pressures of the rink melt away for players when they go through the door.

They don’t have to be the NHL Draft pick or star rookie, or hard nosed veteran they can let their guard down and be themselves.

With all the stress, pressure and high expectations in the hockey world, that burden now becomes shared.

The weight of the hockey world at times can be debilitating.

The billet family is always there for the heavy lifting.

Unfortunately, billet families are confronted with the harsh reality of of the darkest side of the game, the business side.

From demoralizing releases to trades to the numbers game, to aging out, players and their billet families experience it all.

The business of the game is offside, but it’s part of the game.

Hockey’s business side often breaks up the family, leaving all parties searching for answers.

For most billet families, that means a new beginning with another player coming into the home.

For others it means the end, the business side is just too much to comprehend.

A home away from home, a second family with shared dreams and aspirations.

Billet families are the backbone of Junior hockey, and the cornerstone for building a lifelong relationships.

Some bonds will never be broken.

9 comments

  1. I became a billet to a stranger so he could play hockey, I thought I just had to provide house for him to live in but before I know what hit me, I gave him parts of me I never thought I would or could I gave to him a ear to bend, a shoulder to cry on, arms for hugging, a foot to kick butt (if needed) & a heart that filled with SO much love it hurts like hell when he has to leave I say I will never do it again but i know i will never say no cuz he gave to me hours of laughter, moments of pride, the greatest of hugs, thank yous & words such as you are the greatest & I will never forget you that will live with me forever – we become billets for them – we stay billets because of them ❤

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  2. A few years ago I was approached by a friend who asked if I would be interested in billeting a hockey player. Having an only child, the idea appealed to me more than I thought it would but it took me over a year to really sit down with my husband and discuss the possibility. Looking back to three years ago when we finally said yes to billeting, I only have one regret…that we hadn’t said yes sooner.

    Olivier Mathieu, our first billet son,added so much energy to our home that within a very short period of time, he truly became a part of our family. We never looked back. Over the last three years, we have hosted 9 billets. Some for a very short period of time, others for longer. Every single one of these young men became close to our hearts. Each one very different yet so very special.

    The hardest part about being a billet Mom? Letting go, saying good bye. We aren’t built (I’m certainly not) to not become attached. We invite these boys into our home and within a 24 hour period, they become your family.

    I feel blessed and honoured. Blessed that we have built such incredible relationships with these boys and honoured that these boys parents trust us with their children. Not only have we built relationships with the players, but also the families of the players.

    Is it easy? Short answer..nope. Is it worth it? 100%. A person doesn’t go into billeting for the money. It’s not about the money. It’s about helping these boys get through challenges and helping them be ok with being away from home. It’s about meal prep and building relationships. It’s about having a shoulder to lean on on and ear to listen when needed. Being a billet Mom is about opening your heart to love another as your own and about preparing your heart for the goodbye or as I prefer ‘see you later’.

    Olivier is still a part of our family and always will be, as are the others who have walked in and out of our doors. Presently we are hosting a young man from Switzerland who has quickly become ‘our boy’ and we hope he will be with us for a very long time. Our home has become a place where I hope that not only my son, but each and every one of our billet sons, feel safe, loved and appreciated. ❤️

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  3. A few years ago I was approached by a friend who asked if I would be interested in billeting a hockey player. Having an only child, the idea appealed to me more than I thought it would but it took me over a year to really sit down with my husband and discuss the possibility. Looking back to three years ago when we finally said yes to billeting, I only have one regret…that we hadn’t said yes sooner.

    Olivier Mathieu, our first billet son,added so much energy to our home that within a very short period of time, he truly became a part of our family. We never looked back. Over the last three years, we have hosted 7 billets. Some for a very short period of time, others for longer. Every single one of these young men became close to our hearts. Each one very different yet so very special.

    The hardest part about being a billet Mom? Letting go, saying good bye. We aren’t built (I’m certainly not) to not become attached. We invite these boys into our home and within a 24 hour period, they become your family.

    I feel blessed and honoured. Blessed that we have built such incredible relationships with these boys and honoured that these boys parents trust us with their children. Not only have we built relationships with the players, but also the families of the players.

    Is it easy? Short answer..nope. Is it worth it? 100%. A person doesn’t go into billeting for the money. It’s not about the money. It’s about helping these boys get through challenges and helping them be ok with being away from home. It’s about meal prep and building relationships. It’s about having a shoulder to lean on on and ear to listen when needed. Being a billet Mom is about opening your heart to love another as your own and about preparing your heart for the goodbye or as I prefer ‘see you later’.

    Olivier is still a part of our family and always will be, as are the others who have walked in and out of our doors. Our home has become a place where I hope that not only my son, but each and every one of our billet sons, feel safe, loved and appreciated. ❤️

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  4. Six Seasons of Billeting , 9 players ( I call them my Big Boys ❤️) we have been through All the business side of hockey scenarios you wrote, but worth every minute! Our two young boys have the Best big brothers and role models we could wish for. We have a forever growing family which includes the big boys parents, grandparents, girlfriends etc. We remain close and intouch with each of our Big Boys as they move on and continue their journey. Gareth Nicholson, Blade Mann-Dixon, Jason Bell, Spencer Smallman, Joe Veleno, Luke Wilson, Aiden MacIntosh, Nicolas Guay and Charles Savoie , each one of these young men have brought something special into our lives and fill our home and hearts with so many great memories ❤️ There are no favourites ( although they each think there is one lol) each one we love like our own and continue to love and support them in any way we can. We feel blessed to have and have had the very best young men ! We are forever grateful to be a part of their journey ! #luckiestbilletmom

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  5. This is beautifully written Craig. We really miss our days of being a billet family with the Seadogs. We loved all our ‘Big Boys’. Some were with us for a couple of days during training camp, others for multiple seasons. Thank you for writing this.

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  6. In a few short paragraphs you have captured the spirit, love, and even heartbreak everyone experiences. To read this story from an “outsider” perspective makes it even more real. I think billet families, the boys and their parents all go through a very private and individual journey that we really can’t believe anyone could truly understand. But this is it. I’ve shared this with other billet families and we all are in awe of how well you’ve captured the spirit of our experiences.

    The conduit of emotions between the billet and the parents- the conduit of even more than that. The commitment of the responsibility to keep the families in touch with their boys lives is even bigger.. a mission for the love of parenting.

    The business side is by far the most difficult, and even deeper than what you described. I am always amazed on how resilient the boys are to get that few hours notice to skip town and join a new team and family with maybe 24 or less hours Notice and yet play hockey at this level.

    Thank you, Craig, for honoring the boys and their families and all of the billets across the US and Canada by acknowledging the journey here in this article .

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  7. This is a beautiful story! Billets parents open their homes to give a safe, calming, loving place to stay. We have been doing this for 8 years! I got more out of this than the boys ever did, We now have about 10 sons from this! We keep up with me, we love them just like their our own! #onceabullalwaysabull

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  8. We are billet since 12 years for Voltigeurs players in Drummondville ,Quebec. It’s the best experience ever..we love players en there family……in 12 year we had some years 3 players at home….and close to 35 players. Love you guys….
    Dan & Gigi

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