By Fraser Rodgers
A hockey team is like a puzzle; there’s a lot of pieces that make up the larger picture from sound ownership, dedicated and hardworking coaches to the talent on the ice.
One key piece that may get overlooked are the people behind the scenes — billet families.
The Penticton Vees are looking for billet families for the upcoming 2016-17 season.
The Vees have a strong history of good billet families taking players into their homes. One great example of long-time billets are Shauna Turner and Eric Paakspuu. The couple opened their doors to the Vees in 2008 and have never looked back.
“Every last one has fit into the family. Mitch Labreche was our first player in 2008 and we were delightfully surprised at what was waiting at the door,” said Eric.
Fast-forward nine years and 17 players later and the couple have no regrets.
“They’re nothing special, just down-to-earth kids who are focused on hockey,” he said. “They don’t eat as much as you think and they’re great role models for younger kids in the family.”
It’s a bigger season ahead for the Vees as they’re hosting the 2017 Western Canada Cup, April 29 to May 7, a western regional championship that moves two teams on to the RBC Cup national championship. With that in mind, the team needs to find good placements for their players to make them feel right at home.
Shauna said bringing a player into your home isn’t as daunting as you think.
“Their hockey schedule works right into our family schedule and most working family’s schedules. They’re at the rink in the morning, usually on their own for lunch, practising in the afternoon and home for dinner,” she said. “It’s just like having a teenager at home going to school.”
Billet families don’t have to breathe, eat and sleep hockey either as Eric points out.
“You don’t have to be a hockey nut, we weren’t when we started but it grows on you as your relationship with the player grows.”
“Shauna didn’t even follow hockey all that much before Mitch (Labreche) started living with us back almost 10 years ago. But as our relationship with Mitch grew, she got right into it; she won’t miss a game now. The hockey side isn’t the attraction; it’s fostering the relationships with these players.”
Those relationships don’t end when the players leave Penticton either, as Labreche, still keeps in touch to this day.
After hockey, Labreche was working on helicopters for his dad’s company, work that even took him overseas to Afghanistan. Even though he was halfway around the world, he still made time to find his way back to surprise Shauna and Eric with a visit to their home a few years ago.
When sitting with the couple at their picnic table in their backyard overlooking Skaha Lake, you quickly realize billeting is a big part of their lives. They grew to love it, as first starting off with one billet in 2008 to housing three players this past season in Chris Gerrie, Gabe Bast and Domenic Masellis.
Shauna, who’s a straight shooter, points out there might be a hiccup here or there but that comes with any teenager.
“If their room is too messy, I just tell them and they’re dealing with it right away. The hockey background makes it easy to communicate with them; they’re very respectful.”
The Vees puzzle is coming together for the 2016-17 season as it moves closer to training camp, there are still some final pieces that need to be added to complete the picture. That piece could be you.
Vees’ billets get a monthly grocery allowance, per player, and tickets to every Vees’ regular season and playoff home game, including the Western Canada Cup. Families interested in billeting for the upcoming season can contact VeesHockey@gmail.com or call (250)809-4276.