By Ruth Lenzen | April 10, 2018
JANESVILLE, WI — Every season, a group of young hockey players leaves most of what they’ve known their whole lives to chase their dreams of a college career: and it starts with the Janesville Jets. Many of these players travel hundreds of miles to stay in a home away from home: a home that a billet family strives to make welcoming and comfortable.
Billets are families, some with their own children in the house, and some without, that take in junior hockey players and open their homes to them for either some of, but more often than not, the whole duration of their time with the Jets. Our billet families and their efforts, sacrifice and dedication will be honored at Billet Appreciation Night on March 30.
It’s hard to be productive on the ice when the players are thinking too much about what’s going on at home. With this, billet families are given an interesting task: to make sure the boys are cared for, supported, and focused, so that they can succeed both on the ice and off. The billet family has a similar role to a coach: they take care of home life, while the coaches make sure the boys are in good hands at the rink.
Junior hockey is a demanding league, and each player adjusts to the new setting differently. Kip Hoffmann, Janesville’s captain, moved here from Huntley, Ill. when he was 17 years old. He said it took about a year to get used to the changes, but the Engen family made it a much easier process.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have a place to live, and they provide an amazing home,” he said. “They give love that makes me feel like a part of their own family.”
Carter Ekberg is also no stranger to the billeting process, and has lived with Steve and Michelle Hecimovich for two years. Ekberg said he settled in with the Hecimoviches maybe a little quicker than others, because they made him comfortable right away and are not much different than his family back home in Pittsburgh. After spending so much time together, Ekberg said that now his home in Milton with his billets feels just as much his home as Pittsburgh.
Billet families go about their daily lives as normal with the new additions to their homes, but they also spend time getting to know the boys as part of the process: after all, it is called a billet family.
Hoffmann and Ekberg both said that eating dinner together is their primary source of bonding with their billets. They’ll eat together and then hang out after the meal, shooting hoops or watching TV.
Having an easy and comfortable family environment to go home to makes a huge difference in how a player performs, and it can greatly impact their overall experience.
“I won’t ever be able to thank them enough for everything they do for me,” Ekberg said.”
Ekberg and the rest of the Jets community will get the chance to thank the billet families at Billet Appreciation Night this Friday as the Jets take on Springfield in Game 1 of the Midwest Division Semifinals at 7 p.m.