Boasting about hosting: What it's like to billet a hockey player for the season
The Charlottetown Islanders have more than 20 families that host players each year
Another Canadian Hockey League season is just around the corner and teams across the country are busy finding billet families to host their players.
Teenagers with dreams of playing in the NHL leave home trying to take their games to the next level, and find themselves living with strangers.
Stefanie Clark has hosted Matt Welsh of the Charlottetown Islanders for the past two seasons, and is looking forward to Welsh joining her home again.
"It's been a great experience and I can't wait to see him," she said. "It's been a fabulous few years."
'Fit into your dynamic'
Craig Jones got his first taste of hosting a player last year when Charlottetown Islander Johnny Foley stayed with him during the season.
"I was actually kind of shocked how quickly he becomes part of your family," he said. "They fit into your dynamic."
Clark agreed that adding a player into her home was an easy and positive transition.
"The best part is basically having another family member in your house," she said.
"It's like an extension of your family. It's pretty awesome."
'Win or lose'
Troy MacKenzie, the billet coordinator for the Charlottetown Islanders, said it's important for players to be able to take a step back from hockey sometimes.
They can get traded, they can get cut, they can get waived and you know it's like losing a member of the family.- Craig Jones
"They've got to be able to come home and know that there's somebody there they can talk to about things besides hockey," he said.
"Just give them life like they'd normally have if they were still living at home."
"You are with your players if they win or lose or if they have an amazing game or if they don't have an amazing game," added Clark.
"It really just is growing together and learning."
Jones said that when Foley got injured during the season last year it was a tough experience.
"You feel for him when he's having a rough go of it," he said.
"You're really rooting for him."
For billet families, it can be tough to be powerless to help when things aren't going the player's way, similar to situations a parent faces with their own child.
'Somebody else's child'
Jones said that he empathizes with what the player's parents, and he is conscious of his responsibilities.
"The big challenge is...you've got somebody else's child in your house," he said.
"I can imagine the stress level of the parents."
He also acknowledged the pressure he felt before Foley was dropped off at his home by his parents.
"We don't want them to think that he's going into a hellhole or anything," he said with a laugh.
'It is a business'
It's been a great experience and I can't wait to see him... When he's back on P.E.I. I feel like okay, my home is complete.- Stefanie Clark
After the Islanders made a series of transactions, bringing in players at the trade deadline to make a run for the Memorial Cup, Foley was sent back to his single A affiliate.
"We were really sad for him, we felt so bad for him cause he had worked so hard to get back into game shape," said Jones.
"That is the drawback, it is a business ... they can get traded, they can get cut, they can get waived, and you know it's like losing a member of the family."
Jones and Clark both said that the greatest challenge of being a host family is food preparation.
Jones said the team helps by having a nutritionist guide parents on what the players should be eating, and MacKenzie added the main responsiibility of the billet family is to make sure their player is eating well.
Clark said that it has helped her become more organized about what her family is eating.
Jones and Clark said that they are looking forward to having their players back on the Island in the next few weeks.
"We love it. We're really looking forward to the season," said Jones.
"We're looking forward to seeing him on the ice at the EastLink Centre this year."
'Get ready to open your heart'
Clark had some advice for prospective host families.
"Get ready to open your heart because you're going to share a lot of time together and you're going to basically adopt them into your family … that's a big part because they're going to spend most of the year with you instead of their own family," she said.
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