It’s been a junior hockey tradition for decades: families opening their home to young men from across the country and around the world, providing them with not just a bed to sleep in but support and personal guidance as they embark on their hockey careers. At the St. Louis Jr. Blues, we take immense pride in our billet families, and consider them as much of a part of our success as any player or coach.
“We’d like to think that our billet group is one of the best in the league, as evidenced by the high rate of them that return each year to house players,” says Jr. Blues head coach/general manager Chris Flaugher. “Seeing players come back to play again for us is always good, but what’s even better is them saying that they can’t wait to see their billet families again and spend time with them off the ice.”
One secret to the Jr. Blues’ billet success is that many of these families are well-versed in hockey and what it takes to make a successful player on and off the ice. “A lot of our families have young sons or daughters who play hockey at the youth level,” notes Flaugher. “They not only get a great role model for their kids in housing a Jr. Blues player, but also know how to support him personally and mentally: they know what it’s like for them to go through the inevitable peaks and valleys of a long season, and can offer to help, sit down and talk, and do whatever they can to keep them going at a high level.”
It’s interactions like these that build bonds between players and billet families, bonds that last well after the final buzzer of the season. “I can think of more than a few players over the past few years that have come back into St. Louis for a weekend or even longer, just to spend time with their billets and catch up,” Flaugher adds. “To have that kind of relationship between player and billet family is something that we believe is important to a club’s culture, and we’d like to thank [billet co-ordinator] Ryan Schilli for all his work in making our billet family program into what it is today.”