They are the ones who make sure they get to the game on time, to practice early in the morning, and who support the players throughout the season. They are the ones who are there for all the games. They are the ones who make the players feel like they are at home when they are away from their own. They are the ones who support the community and the Clippers hockey team in ways that most will never understand. They are the Billet families.
There will come a time in a hockey player’s Junior A career when they will have to leave home to play in another place, often far away. A Billet, or host family, home is where a player lives during the season and it becomes a player’s home-away-from-home. But it’s more than just a place to sleep, it is a pivotal and hugely influential part of the player’s and their host’s lives.
Pictured: Anuschka, Penelope and Nate, Dunham , Luca Grabas, Jake Hewitt
“Our 1st Billet was our grandson when he was with the Nanaimo Buccaneers,” Colin and Linda Keir tell us. “We did it at first because he was our grandson, but we enjoyed doing it so much that we started to Billet for the Clippers. Now we are in our third year and plan to keep going. This year we are hosting Lukas Klemm.”
If the kids are happy with the Billets, it really shows on the ice.Colin Keir
“We are a hockey family,” Anuschka Dunham tells us, “and we always wanted a big family and we love having a full house. Our daughter Penelope played hockey a bit and our son Nate still does. We rarely miss a Clipper’s game and try to get to any that happen on the Island to support the guys. This year we have two players staying with us. Lucas Grabas, who stayed with us last year, and Lucas knew we were wanting to take on two full time billets and suggested that Jake Hewitt may be a good fit for our family. He was right on the money! Jake is just lovely.
Pictured: Luca Grabas, Jake Hewitt
Billet families play a crucial role in the development and well-being of junior hockey players. They provide a sense of stability and normalcy, which is especially important during a demanding season. They also serve as role models and mentors, helping the players navigate the challenges of growing up and pursuing their dreams.
“If the kids are happy with the Billets, it really shows on the ice. That’s so important, as their performance when they play in the season affects their careers,” Colin says. “So, we want them to focus on hockey and not have to worry about anything else.”
Pictured: Lukas, Peter and Karen Klemm with Colin and Linda Keir
Linda adds, “Every game they always look up and give a wave or nod. You know that you being there to watch means a lot to these kids. Then after the game we talk about the game, how it went and how they are feeling, both physically and emotionally.”
“Jake said to me, it’s so nice to play for someone,” Anuschka says. “We know that it means a great deal that we come to the games to support them. They are so genuine, grateful and respectful and it feels good to do something for the kids and you want to keep doing it.”
It’s not just about hockey, though.
“It’s a second home for them,” Linda tells us, “And you become like their second parents.
“We let them know they are family, and they are one of us, and they quickly become like your own kids.” Anuschka says. “They know they don’t just come home with five stitches without telling you. You text, just as you would your own mom. We care and we want to know what’s happening, and they really do become part of the family. The guys make us laugh a lot and there is a wonderful big brother feel. They came out trick or treating with us and the kids. More for support, as they didn’t dress up, and there was only a bit of candy tax at the end of the night,” she laughs.
The reward is in the growth you see in the kids, as players and people, and it doesn’t end there.Anuschka Dunham
“We always do something for Christmas before they go home,” Colin says. “Lukas and Max Itagaki, who we hosted last year, had Christmas with us and got presents before going home to their family, and a few years back Nick DeSantos spent Christmas with us because he could not go home, thanks to covid.”
“We had a very full house for Christmas, but we didn’t mind at all,” Anuschka tells us. “You become friends with the player’s families as well. Moms are always checking in to make sure if there is anything you need, they ask if you need sheets, a blender or anything they imagine their kids may need. So, you end up building a relationship with them as well. But you become very close with the players; they may leave your home, but you still stay connected. Hudson Cameron, who stayed with us last year, was traded twice, not uncommon for the sport, and he reached out to talk when he was feeling a bit down after moving around so much. Being a billet parent doesn’t end when they leave. It extends beyond them leaving. You just never know when you might get a call or a text.”
“We had a BBQ with Max and ten other players before he left last year and we stay in close contact with him and his family,” Colin and Linda said. “Max is now at West Point and playing for The Army hockey team. He just called us a few days ago and let us know that he will be visiting the Island this summer. We’re so excited to see him.”
While Billet families do get money to host the players, it’s certainly not done for profit.
“There is a great satisfaction in watching the kids grow and knowing you play a part in it,” Linda says. “We love having these kids and will do so as long as we are able to.”
“It’s definitely not the money,” laughs Anuschka. “It helps offset the costs, but no one does it for money. The reward is in the growth you see in the kids, as players and people, and it doesn’t end there. You also see what it does for the Clippers hockey team, the players, their families and the community.”