Lakers in need of billets as season preparations get underway

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Do you have a spare room in your house you can offer to a young man coming to town to play hockey? The Fort Frances Lakers need you.

The community-run team is looking for people to house players from September until as late as May depending on the team’s playoff performance.

Sarah Kivimaki is the billet co-ordinator for the Lakers and has been hosting players for three years.

While there are some local players from Fort Frances and the area, many players have come from across North America in the past.

“The need is great this year,” Kivimaki said. “We’ve had a few billet families age out, they’re a bit older and decided they don’t need the extra responsibility. So we need quite a few homes this year.”

The requirements are not particularly onerous on billet families. Players require a room either to themselves or shared with another player. They can’t share a room with a non-player but many players do like to have another player to room with, Kivimaki says.

“I’ve had a single billet and I’ve had double billets, and I have to say, having two is almost easier,” she said. “They have a buddy.”

Ryan Tanner, left, along with his parents Greg and Angie with billet family Sarah and Chris Kivimaki at the Lakers’ Family Night last season. Family night is a way for the Lakers to recognize billet families on ice during the season. —Allan Bradbury photo

Another general requirement is that billets provide players with at least one hot meal per day and then access to the kitchen and pantry for the rest of their meals, providing healthy options. Billets receive a $500 stipend towards food costs. The players must also have access to laundry facilities and the internet. Many players have vehicles and others can get to practices and games with a teammate.

The team does their best to pair billets with families based on preferences and if there are any food or pet allergies. Some players will have vehicles while others won’t so depending on those circumstances they could take billets from as far away as Bear’s Pass or Reef Point east of Fort Frances and go as far west as Emo. Anyone over 18 years old in the household must pass a criminal record check, which the team will reimburse the cost of. The team has a billet handbook that they go over at the start of the season with players and billet families. Kivimaki says there has been the odd time that there is a conflict between players and their billet families but they’ve been able to resolve them in the past, sometimes by moving a player or two around to avoid personality conflicts.

Some players will have jobs or do school work while playing and they practice every day, so they don’t have much opportunity to lay around the house, Kivimaki says.

Games this year should be all on weekends and will likely be alternating weekends, home and away so billet families should get every other weekend at home to themselves.

The Lakers also have different perks for billet families including a season pass per player per billet family, up to two players and monthly draws for different prizes. Family weekend is always a hit too.

“We do a family weekend once a year, generally it’s around Family Day, we get three games in a row so that’s when the billet families get recognized on ice and they’re invited to a pre-game meal and all the players’ biological families come in and we have a celebratory weekend,” Kivimaki said. “Last year we rode the bus from the arena around town to the restaurant.”

Kivimaki also added a personal anecdote from the family weekend.

“The two billets I had were Dylan Wedward and Ryan Tanner, their families came and we stayed up until like 4:30 in the morning on Saturday, just visiting,” Kivimaki said. “It’s amazing how two strangers you welcome into your home can bring together six people, three families, it’s just amazing.”

The hope is for billet families to become like family to the players who stay with them.

“I think the most important thing about billeting is being that safe place for (the players), being their home away from home,” Kivimaki said. “You celebrate all the wins with them, you console them after a loss and support them every step of the way.”