Media Coverage

Kings Courting Billet Families

June 28, 2015 -- By William Chapman

If you are a hockey fan, billeting is a big part of the sports landscape. Gordie Howe, Don Cherry and many others all started their careers with billets. As hockey fans, we know the importance of this program and here is your opportunity to help shape a career or two.

The Greater Metro Hockey League has expanded south for the upcoming 2015-16 season. One of the new franchise teams is local, the Kings. They will be setting up shop in the Kingsville Recreation Complex. Ownership and staff of the Kings know the importance of community and the family dynamic. 

The billet program is a new frontier in the county for most. If anyone has followed the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, they use the billet program due to the large number of players they have that are from out of town. Players like Cory Stillman, Taylor Hall, John Cullen and many others have come to Windsor and stayed with families in the area while playing for the Spitfires.

The Kingsville Kings are looking for the same kind of commitment from area families who are willing to open up their homes to a player in need of a place to hang their hat while they play for the Kings. 

It isn’t as simple as just opening the door and letting them in, giving them a bed and that is it. The Kings organization wants to do their best to match up the players with families that fit together. There has to be some kind of a bond that forms. That bond becomes very important in the career of the player. They feel comfortable in the home, with the family, in the community and with the team. The level of comfort reflects in the play of the athlete and in their educations. 

The play of the athlete is important for his career, but the education is also important as most of the players in the league are also looking to higher education in colleges and universities around the world.

Hugh Douglas and his family of Amherstburg were among several billet families fir the Windsor Spitfires. Douglas says he took in players for over a decade. Not one time, according to Douglas, did he ever have a bad experience with a player in his home.

“Over the years my family welcomed in several players from the Spits and overall it was a really good experience, but you have to be prepared. It can become a challenge,” according to Douglas.

Players and the billet families have rules that they have to follow which are outlined by the team. Rules for the families range from making sure the player is fed, has their own room, providing a clean, family atmosphere for their player and communicate any issues to the coaching staff. The Kings ask that billet families extend the same care and attention to their players as they would their own family members.

Players have an extensive list of rules they are to follow. Most of the rules relate to basic respect for the family that has taken them in and their property. The billet program is a privilege for the players. It isn’t a right and can be taken away. The Kings ownership takes a zero tolerance stance when it comes to drug and alcohol use by the players.

Douglas says that in the billet program there must be a good relationship between all billet families and the club coaching staff. That is a very important part of the player/billet assimilation. If there are issues, they can be solved immediately through talk or by moving the player to a more suitable housing arrangement.

It is a rewarding experience, something Douglas can attest to. One of his billet players was Calgary draft pick, Cory Stillman. Before he was drafted, Calgary didn’t call the Spitfires. They called Douglas and his family. They were who the Flames wanted to hear from. Douglas stated that they wanted to hear about the kid, the student and how he was as a citizen. His hockey playing spoke for itself. He, according to Douglas was one of the best experiences his family ever had. The Douglas family was so impressive to the Flames organization that they were in attendance at the 1992 NHL entry draft in Montreal.

Gary Astalos, Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations for the GMHL’s Kingsville Kings looks at billeting the same way, having been a billet player during his days on the ice. He points out that a large amount of work goes on behind the scenes in order to build an elite level junior hockey program.

“In my opinion,” according to Astalos, “having caring billets is essential, as these families are a vital part of the success of a junior hockey player.”

Astalos, from a player perspective still keeps in touch with his billet families on a regular basis, even visiting during the summer.

“They are family to me,” said Astalos.

Douglas continues his relationships with his former player billets. When his daughter was married a while ago, she placed a call to Stillman while he was packing up in Tampa Bay to become a member of the Carolina Hurricanes asking if would come to Windsor for this occasion. Stillman was there, a memory that family, friends and Douglas’s daughter will not soon forget.

It is a lot of work, opening a home to a stranger, but respect and trust go a long way in forging a lasting bond between a young men forging a career in hockey and a family willing to take a player in, treat them like family and seeing them succeed in life.

If you are willing to assist the Kings in this program, contact Tom Schinkelshoek, Team President of the Kingsville Kings at 519-965-0756 or by email at tom.schinkels@yahoo.ca.