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.