Billeting experience a win-win for AHU, Junior A Knights players
It’s not uncommon for junior hockey players to move out of state, maybe even out of the country, and live with a family during their hockey seasons.
What’s also not uncommon is that it’s an experience for not only the player, but the family who houses them as well.
One of the Phoenix Knights Junior A team’s billet coordinators and billet mom herself, Audrey Fine, thinks the billeting experience is positive not just for the players, but for her kids as well.
Audrey, along with her husband, Jeff, and two sons, Gavin, 7, who plays on the Arizona Hockey Union’s Mite White team, and Colin, 5, billet Knights forward Teighan Keller, who calls Calgary, Alberta, his home.
“It is such a positive experience,” Fine said. “They are like big brothers – it’s like my kids live with their heroes.”
Every Wednesday, Fine has a group of teammates come to her house for a home-cooked meal and then plan a fun activity every week with the younger kids.
“We set up dinner, then do something like carve pumpkins and make caramel apples,” Fine said. “I think the older boys had more fun than the little guys.”
The Knights have created a Big Buddy/Little Buddy program through the billet program where each player is teamed up with a younger player. The Knights attend games and practices for the younger players, and even do things with them outside of the rink.
“Each week, we come up with a different thing we do for the younger teams,” Fine said. “The guys make posters or make goofy things like make pet rocks. One weekend, they all got crazy socks.”
Another billet mom, Candice Bradford, and her family have been billeting Knights goalie Luke Stripp for the past three seasons.
“Our experience has been amazing,” Bradford said. “I was interested, but a little hesitant when my husband, Jeff, brought the idea to me, but once we brought Luke in, he is part of our family at this point.”
Stripp was equally nervous to come down during his first season from Vancouver.
“It’s a big change – I never met them before and I was a nervous wreck because you don’t know the family,” Stripp said. “But when you’ve been with a family for this long, they grow on you. I’ll miss seeing the kids all the time.”
Bradford stated that her kids’ reactions to having Stripp come back each season was worth it. Her son, Tyson, 9, plays for the AHU Squirt Black squad.
“I wish I videotaped his face when I told him Luke was coming back this season,” Bradford said. “You would’ve thought I told him he won the lottery.”
Stripp has blended well into the family, even playing knee hockey with Tyson and Bradford’s four-year-old daughter, Taylor.
But another part of billeted players is the experience for the team to meet players from all around the world. The Knights have players from Canada and Europe this season.
Knights defensemen and Phoenix native Davis Dryden, whose parents billet players, says it created a stronger foundation for the team.
“We just bonded really well,” Dryden said. “They come from places like Europe to Arizona. We get a good group of guys – it’s a family-based organization.”
Stripp also likes having teammates coming in from all over the world.
“You don’t get an everyday experience to hang out with kids from Russia and Ukraine,” Stripp said. “You learn from them and they learn from you – from their cultures and our culture. This is why we all play hockey all over the world.”
The Knights welcome players from all over to have a home away from home. If you are interested in becoming a billeting a player, please email the Knights at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo/The Fine family – Jeff and Audrey and sons, Gavin and Colin – has had an enjoyable experience billeting Phoenix Knights forward Teighan Keller (top right) this season. Keller is a Calgary native in his first year in a Knights uniform.
— Katy Wolpoff