The Fort Frances Lakers Junior A hockey team is ramping up operations for another season, and that means they need housing for players.
Sarah Kivimaki, billet co-ordinator for the Lakers says a billet family is meant to be a surrogate for players when they can’t be near their own families.
“You are their place where they feel safe, you’re their home away from home,” Kivimaki said. “You’re there to congratulate them on a win and build them up after a loss.”
She says being a billet is a great experience.
“Last year was my first year being the billet co-ordinator, it was actually my first year being a billet as well,” Kivimaki said. “It was such a rewarding experience. We had two billets, one of them left in December and went to another team and we filled his spot with a player coming in from Dryden who was traded to our team. They just become a part of your family. It’s pretty amazing how quickly they fit right into your routine.”
Requirements of the billet families are straightforward. Kivimaki said most players would prefer to have their own room and families are asked to provide one hot meal per day to the players. Then for other meals, give the player access to the kitchen. Players are responsible for their own transportation and many will bring their own cars if they have them. If not, they can co-ordinate with teammates to get to and from the rink.
In return for housing a player, families receive a $500 per month stipend as well as one season pass to Lakers games per player housed, up to two passes as well as invitations to exclusive team events and billet family appreciation events.
Players can range in age from 16-21, with most being on the older side of the range, 18-19. They are required to follow house and team rules.
“There are rules, and curfews and things like that,” Kivimaki said. “And, of course, house rules apply.”
The team has handbooks for players and billet families to follow, and if there are any issues with rules or curfews, Kivimaki or the coach would step in, though Kivimaki says there haven’t really been any issues in the past.
“The boys haven’t had any problems,” Kivimaki said. “They’re here to play hockey, that’s their focus. Some of them still do online schooling, some of them just spend their time solely focused on their hockey with workouts, practices, runs, and some of them will look for employment while they’re here.”
Kivimaki also hopes that with fewer COVID restrictions there will be more opportunities for community involvement as well.
Housing can start as early as training camp for signed players, Kivimaki says. Camp begins Sept. 9. Most players will be getting their own accommodations for the camp.
“If a player is signed and I have a home for them, then I’ll most likely place them there,” she said. “I know we have a guy who’s coming in, he’s already been signed, so he’ll move into our house around Sept. 7.”
Billeting goes from the start of the season right after training camp until the two-week Christmas break midway through December and then resumes in the new year, until the team is eliminated from the playoffs. The team also has a significant away schedule of 27 games as well.
Anyone interested in hosting a Lakers player or two this season can contact Sarah Kivimaki at (807) 275-6991.