The Alexandria Blizzard is coming off its best season in program history. After beating the Granite City Lumberjacks in the opening round of the NA3HL playoffs, the Blizzard advanced to the West Division championship game for the first time in team history.
Now that the offseason is underway, the team is already facing adversity - finding places for its players to live.
When high school athletes make the jump to junior hockey, they are given a host family to live with. Some families take multiple players while others choose to host just one. Families are given a food stipend and season tickets along with discounted merchandise.
Households that decide to host junior hockey players are referred to as billet families. With players reporting to Alexandria in the fall, the Blizzard is still looking for more families to host players.
"We need two or three more billet houses," housing coordinator Sandy Bessingpass said. "There are a lot of families that want to do it but aren't able because of the restrictions. We require that a host parent must stay in the house with the players every night. They are not allowed to be left home alone overnight."
Bessingpass said the overnight rule eliminated many families with kids. When the kids are old enough to start playing sports they have to travel on the weekends, making them unable to commit to hosting a junior hockey player.
"We really need to find more houses because we don't want a family hosting too many players," Bessingpass said. "It's a lot of work to have four or five players under one roof."
One family took the leap for the first time last season. Denise and Troy Mills made a decision they thought they should have made a long time ago.
"We pondered doing it for a few years. We finally decided to go for it and it was so much fun," Denise said. "We've been fans for a long time and we felt like we were so close with the team and the other parents this year. We wish we did it sooner."
Bessingpass isn't a new billet parent. Over the last 10 years, she has hosted dozens of players, and still keeps in touch with some to this day.
"I still get birthday texts and I'll reach out to them every now and then," she said. "You become part of their life for a few months. It's hard to picture myself not doing it now after doing it for so long."
Billet families are required to provide a room for the players. If a family is hosting two players at once, they must have separate beds. Families with kids are encouraged to learn more about signing up. Denise's daughter, Libby, enjoyed her first year being a billet sister.
"Once you get to know one of the players you get to know a lot of them," Libby said. "It's like having another brother in the house."
For more information about becoming part of the Alexandria Blizzard family, head to www.alexandriablizzard.com and click on Billet Info to learn about signing up.
Optional pull quote:
"We felt like we were so close with the team and the other parents this year. We wish we did it sooner." - Denise Mills