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.
Nadine Cormier and Francois Vidal have had opened their home for several junior players over the years.
This year was no different when they invited Edmonton Oilers Prospect Olivier Rodrigue into their home.
“Olivier is a great young man, he was a perfect fit for our family,” said Cormier.
“It didn’t take long for him to feel right at home and we were really happy to have a “new son” participating in family outings, having meals with us or just hanging out,” Cormier said.
“It was very rewarding having Olivier stay with us.”
Vidal and Cormier along with their two daughters Roxanne and Nikki have an unparalleled love and passion for the game.
All the trips to freezing cold rinks, away tournaments and long hours never seemed like a sacrifice, it was just a way of life for Cormier’s family.
“Frank played hockey most of his life, and our youngest daughter also played until she graduated from high school a couple years ago.”
“I was the hockey wife/mom and always enjoyed it,” Cormier said proudly.
“Watching the Cats play is something we love to do as a family, and when you get to know the players, it’s even better.”
“The social aspect of it is also very nice, we made real good friends with another billet family hanging at the rink at every game.”
The social aspect and sharing the billeting experience is something Cormier and Vidal cherish and wish to continue.
“I just wish we had more chance of meeting the other billet families,” explained Cormier.
“It’s hard to get to know them when you don’t really know who they are.”
You see family always comes first in the Cormier Vidal home.
The passionate hockey loving billets take great pride in always being there for their billet son.
“Olivier wasn’t our first player and won’t be the last,” Cormier said.
“We know these kids are good kids and they are all here to play hockey, do their best, and enjoy the journey.”
“We all make sure we do our part so they do,” admitted Cormier.
Cormier and Vidal could always be found ice level at the Avenir Centre for every single Wildcats home game this season.
How nerve racking was it watching their billet son play this season?
“I think that the fact that he was the number one added to the nervousness for sure,” Cormier said.
“Olivier has big plans for the future, and every game he was in front of the net was an important game for him,” she added.
“We were the first to congratulate him after a good game, but also the first to cheer him up after a defeat.”
“We were certainly looking forward to the playoffs and beyond.”
“It would have been even more nerve racking for sure, but unfortunately, it was cut short.”
Rodrigue was acquired a day before the 2019 QMJHL Draft and was the first sign of the Moncton Wildcats championship aspirations.
Rodrigue was outstanding for the Cats this season and was poised to carry the proud organization to the promise land before the horrific COVID-19 struck ending any hopes of hoisting a President Cup and Memorial Cup.
“Since day one they made me feel like I was home,” said Rodrigue of living with Cormier and Vidal.
“During the first week they made me discover the Acadian culture with the Festival des Acadiens on August 15th.”
“They showed me Moncton and the area, how to go to the rink and which road to take to go to school. They did everything to make me comfortable.”
“The first day for sure I was shy to meet my new family for the year, but now I consider them as my second family.”
“I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me,” the Oilers Prospect said.
A home away from home.
A home away from the pressure and stress of the rink.
Billet families are a pillar of strength and support.
“It was great to live with them, I’m from a family of four, I was used to have a little brother, but now I had an older sister, we got along very well.”
“This year I learned a lot of new abilities, every evening I was helping with the dinner so I learned some recipes and often we were baking the desert all together.”
“Nadine called me her sous chef,” Rodrigue said laughing.
“For any young players who are coming to this league, the billet family is very important because usually it’s the first time that the player is leaving the home, the billet family becomes your family.”
“The support of that the family and the food are important for a player to excel in this sport is important,” explained Rodrigue.
“I am lucky I have been with a billet family in Drummondville and Moncton that they have taken such good care of me to make my junior career incredible.”
For one weekend of the season Olivier Rodrigue could share his Moncton Wildcat experience with his mother and his billet family.
“The mom’s weekend was very special for my mom, but also for me.”
“That weekend was the only time that we have spent together since last summer, even now I haven’t seen my family since then,” admitted Rodrigue.
“That weekend was a chance to me to thank my mom for everything she have done for me.”
“My dad was usually away from home due to his job, but my mom traveled around the province of Quebec to help me and my brother play the sport that we love.”
Rodrigue set a career milestone winning his 100th QMJHL game on the same weekend.
“I won my 100th in the QMJHL on that weekend as well, so it was very special to live that moment with my mom.”
“I would like to thank the organization of the Wildcats and Mr. Irving for that special weekend, Moncton is a first class organization,” Rodrigue said.
Saying goodbye is extremely difficult at the best of times, but this season was different.
The proud billet mom struggled saying goodbye to her billet son given the circumstances.
“It ended so suddenly, with him leaving with other players, leaving all his stuff behind,” stressed Cormier.
With so much uncertainty at that time Cormier believed Rodrigue and the other players would be returning to finish the season.
“We were thinking it would only be for a couple weeks, it took a while to realize he wasn’t coming back,” confessed Cormier.
“We had to ship his belonging without seeing him again.”
“That was a hard day,” said a reflective Cormier.
Rodrigue spent his time in quarantine working hard and trying to stay in shape the best he could to prepared for an eventual opportunity to join the Oilers if the NHL was to return.
Nevertheless, Rodrigue still thinks about the season that could have been for the Wildcats and saying a proper goodbye to his second family.
“The way the season ended is terrible.”
“I have the feeling of the unfinished business.”
“We had such a good team with a good chemistry, good leadership, the offensive power and solid defense, I’m sure we would have really good chances to win this year.”
“2020 will be always remembered with no winner.”
“Safety is the priority, we can never take any chances with a pandemic,” Rodrigue said.
“It was an heartbreaking time when we had to say goodbye,” Rodrigue said.
“At first we were told that the season was just postponed, but as soon as the season was cancelled and the road between the Quebec and the New Brunswick were shut down I felt like I didn’t have the chance to say a real goodbye,” Rodrigue said.
“We are lucky these days we have facetime, so we are staying in touch.”
Rodrigue feels very grateful to have two amazing billet families throughput his junior career.
“My billet family in Drummondville were great, they made me feel like home. It was different because they didn’t have kids, so I was the only child in the family. At that time it was the first time I was leaving my real family so it was a new experience for me.”
“I was little bit shy at the beginning, but they have made feel part of the family.”
“I stayed with them during all my three years in Drummondville,” Rodrigue added.
You don’t have to spend too much time talking to the twenty year old goaltender to realize his love for the game, but most of all his unconditional love he possesses for his family.
“My family is doing fine right now, since I left for the camp in Edmonton my family have decided to leave the sun of the California to spend the summer with the rest of my family in Quebec.
So they drove from Bakersfield California to Chicoutimi.”
“I miss them.”
“I haven’t see my mom since the beginning of February at the mom’s weekend.”
It’s been even longer since Rodrigue saw his father and brother.
“The last time I saw them was at the World Juniors, so at the beginning of January.”
“Because the borders were shut down I couldn’t travel to the U.S. to see my parents. So since when the season was cancelled I was staying with my godmother in Chicoutimi, that gave me the chance to spend time with my grandfather and my girlfriend and to stay in shape,” explained Rodrigue.
“I was running a lot and the Oilers sent me a program to do everyday during the break.”
Rodrigue left for Edmonton on June 30th.
“It’s very nice to be around the NHL guys, you look at them and you try to learn how they work, how they think the game and I realize that they are very impressive,” admitted Rodrigue.
Rodrigue’s journey in the QMJHL may have come to an end, but the young netminder will never forget his billet families, friends and teammates he met along the way.
“What will always remember from my junior career is the friendships that you develop.”
“In this league the only thing you have to worry about is your school and the way you perform on the ice, everything else is taking care of by the organization.”
“You are treated like professionals and you have the chance to play in a league where you can develop as a hockey player, but also in any aspect of the life.”
“The sacrifices that my parents made for me are enormous.”
“Everyone knows that hockey costs a lot of money, specially if you are a goalie.”
“Before my dad was a teacher, so it was hard for him to pay thousands of dollars on hockey inscription for me and my brother, but my parents made the choice the help us become athletes.”
“My mom drove me and my brother so much for practices, games or tournaments and to becoming the person and athlete I am today, I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me.”
“Every athlete should take the time to tell your parents thank you for everything that they are doing for you,” stressed Rodrigue.
His time in the QMJHL is over and Olivier Rodrigue is currently living out his NHL dream, but he will never forget the life lessons he has learned along the way.
“I have grown as a person and as a player.”
“I learned a lot about myself, to always keep pushing in order to reach further and never being satisfied with your performance.”
Rodrigue continues to chase his ultimate hockey dreams.
“It’s been a dream since I was a young boy to play in the NHL, so maybe to play in the pro next year would be a step closer to my dream.”
“One thing I learned since I have started to play hockey is that every time you step on the ice is a chance for you to get better.”
“Since I’m here at the Oilers camp, every ice session is an opportunity for me to develop, to learn and maybe one day realizing my dream to play in the NHL.”
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 same can be said about the connection the Vidal-Cormier family has with Rodrigue.
The bond forged between billets and their second families is truly remarkable.
“Good thing we could Facetime often and keep in touch, but we certainly wish the season hadn’t ended like that,” admitted Cormier.
There were many memorable moments to be celebrated and shared this season, none bigger than Team Canada’s World Junior Gold Medal.
The Vidal-Cormier household was glued to their TV’s like the rest of Canada when Cormier heard her phone ring.
“It was amazing to have Olivier FaceTime us from the dressing room after the big win,” Cormier said proudly.
“We felt pretty special that he took the time to do it in that craziness,” Cormier said.
“Obviously Olivier is in Edmonton right now, but we still keep in touch, and we really enjoy that.”
“We are really proud of Olivier, we wish him nothing but the best, and we will continue to follow his career.”
“Olivier, just like the other players we have had the pleasure to billet are part of our family forever,” Cormier said proudly.
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 lifelong relationships.
Some bonds will never be broken.