It takes a lot of different pieces to make a junior hockey club run. From ownership and management to coaching and on-ice talent.
However, billet families — an essential piece of the junior hockey puzzle — are often overlooked.
Each year, multiple families in Penticton graciously open their homes to Penticton Vees players.
The Vees are currently in need of billet families for the 2020-21 season.
The bonds that players make with their billet families often last a lifetime, explained former Vees player and current assistant coach Paddy Sexton.
“Billets truly are the fabric that holds junior hockey together,” said Sexton.
“Without billets there’s no team, there’s no player, nobody has a way to play.”
Sexton, who played with the Vees from 2013 to 2015, says he still stays in touch with his billet family, who he now considers his second family.
Sexton’s experience playing in Penticton was greatly enhanced by his billet family.
“It’s something I’m forever grateful for and I’ll stay in touch with them for the rest of my life,” he said.
While becoming a billet family is a rewarding experience for all families, it can especially rewarding if the family has younger children.
Being a billet family provides families with an positive, “big brother” type of role model, said Sexton.
“Our players are all high level players pursuing their goals and their dreams of playing college hockey and ultimately professional hockey. They’re very driven, they’re smart, and they work hard.
“It’s one of the reasons our program has been so successful over the years, because we recruit and bring in high-quality people who are also good hockey players.”
Leighton Barber (left) was very excited to have his “big brother” and returning Vees’ player Peter Muzyka back in Penticton. (Paddy Sexton photo)
Even if billet families don’t have children, there are still many positive aspects that can come from housing a player.
Sexton’s former billet dad had adult children who had moved out, but billeting for the Vees gave him an opportunity to have kids in the house again — something he enjoyed so much he would often house two or three players at a time.
All types of households are eligible to become billet families, the only requirement is a commitment to helping the players.
Finding billet families this year has been more difficult for the Vees than in the past, most likely due to COVID-19, said Sexton.
The Vees organization is taking every necessary precaution to ensure the safety of their players and billet families.
Upon arrival, players will be tested for COVID-19 and will also be tested regularly throughout the season.
Players arriving from outside of Canada will also quarantine for the required two weeks.
During the season, the organization will doing regular temperature checks for players and staff.
The BCHL has also provided safety guidelines for when players are at home.
Billet families are provided with a monthly grocery allowance per player as well as tickets to every Vees regular season and playoff home game.
The majority of Vees players will arrive in Penticton during the last week of August.
Practices are set to being in September, while the BCHL has set Dec. 1 as a tentative start date to the season.
Anyone interested in becoming a billet family is asked to contact Sexton by email at email@example.com.