Multiple families opened their homes last hockey season to the junior A hockey players, this year the Hinton Timberwolves are hoping locals will once again participate.
Players became part of their billet families as the families tried to provide them with a comfortable home, said Nick Pratt, who with wife Carlene billeted four different players last year, and is coordinating billet families for the Timberwolves this year.
“One of the harder parts is seeing the kids go. Especially at the beginning when it’s new, the trades and stuff. It’s definitely an interesting feeling because you know the kid is still going on to do exactly what he was doing here, but somewhere else,” said Nick Pratt.
One of the players that lived with the Pratt family last year is returning to Hinton this year and moving back in with them.
Currently, the Timberwolves have 10 families that have committed or are interested, and they hope to get around 15 to 20 families in total.
Their plan is to keep one bedroom open at their own home as a place for athletes to stay before they are matched and placed with a more permanent billet family.
“We’re the middle ground between the coach, the owner, the kids and their parents and the billet families. Essentially what our role is right now is getting the billet families approved, getting them through their checks, making sure they are a suitable place for the players to be in,” said Pratt.
Nick Pratt played hockey competitively growing up and experienced billeting at 16 years-old. For him, billeting was a great experience and when he and his wife found out about the junior team in Hinton, they wanted to help it succeed and give back.
After only finishing junior hockey five years ago, he felt it was easy for him to relate to the young athletes that lived with them.
“It was nice, there was a good balance of knowing that you were the parent but you also weren’t the parent. It was a very healthy balance because we could relate to them,” they both agreed.
“At the same time, making sure they’re following the rules and keeping them in check a bit,” he added.
Billeting is integral in hockey for any community, said Dino Buttazzoni, co-owner of the Timberwolves.
Some families still keep in contact with their billet children and Buttazzoni hopes more families will offer that same support to the Timberwolves in the upcoming season. Brittany Aspell and her husband took in the youngest player on the hockey team last year.
“My son always wanted a brother, so we thought why not try this. And we made lifelong friends with his family,” said Aspell.
Aspell, her husband, and her son all play hockey and are big fans of the sport.
“We have a big enough home to support it so we thought why not try to give back to the team and the community,” she said.
Defenceman Ryland Strauss was 16 years old at the time he showed up on their doorstep in September and lived with them until April.
“At first it was a little bit awkward. They drop this kid off and then he’s yours to take care of. After we got to know him, he opened up and he was one of the family,” she said.
Strauss became comfortable in their home quickly and he got along well with Aspell’s nine-year-old son.
Aspell and her husband raised Strauss as their own but always checked in with his parents to make sure they were making the right calls. Strauss has junior epilepsy, which added another layer to stepping into the caretaker role for the Aspell family.
“I had a good relationship with his parents,” said Aspell. “He was on medication and there were certain things he couldn’t do. When he got sick, it was very scary. I took him in as our own, he lived under our rules, and he still helped out.”
If Strauss decides to come back for another season, Aspell said their door is open to him, but regardless of whether it’s Strauss or somebody else, the Aspells signed up to billet again for this upcoming season.
“It’s a great experience. I have a three-week-old daughter so to welcome – pretty much a stranger–into my house is a big step. But all the kids are great and they’re here for a reason,” she said.
To sign up as a billet family, contact Nick and Carlene Pratt at firstname.lastname@example.org.