With plans for another year of Jr. A hockey in the Highlands well underway, Haliburton County Huskies coach Ryan Ramsay said the team is looking for billet families who can house players for the upcoming season.

“We need several households to join the fold. If there are families willing to take multiple players, that would help – we need housing for 12 players,” Ramsay told The Highlander. “We have guys reporting here in early August, so that gives us two months to get things in place.”

For the past two seasons, the team has had around a dozen billets on its roster. Some have doubled up, taking at least two players, Ramsay said. To make the numbers work, older players have been put up in the ‘hockey house’ located in Haliburton, with the Huskies and players’ families taking care of the costs.

Billet families will receive a monthly stipend of $550 per player – up from $500 last year – and two complimentary season tickets at centre ice. Ramsay said hosts will also receive two ‘butcher boxes’ packed full of meat, provided by Haliburton Foodland, during the season.

It’s an approximate eight month commitment, with the family expected to provide players with a private bedroom and daily meals. Players will be responsible for their own transportation to and from the rink.

Ramsay said inviting a teenage hockey player into your home may seem daunting but can have many benefits.

“Players and their billets often make connections that can last a lifetime. I played five years in the OHL and lived with some awesome families – all of them were at my wedding. Most of them are friends that I still talk to today,” he said. “For families with children, welcoming a player into your home provides a great opportunity for mentorship. The player will be a role model your kids can look up to.”

The Huskies coach said for many players this will be their first time away from home, so it’s important to find a good fit. “It’s all about helping a kid who has probably worked since they were three years old to make it to the NHL. It’s about helping them as they chase their dream,” he said. “Away from the rink is just as important as at the rink. If the players are resting and comfortable in a good environment, it allows them to play better and succeed on the ice.”

Jess Jackson has managed the Huskies billet program for the past two seasons. In a previous interview with The Highlander, she said anyone could be considered for the role.

“There’s no perfect fit, no ideal scenario as to who can be a billet family. Anybody from a single working professional, to a family with children, to a retired senior can take a player in,” Jackson said. Ramsay noted players typically return home at least once a month and are gone for two weeks over the Christmas holidays, while the OJHL is on break.

Anyone interested in becoming a billet can contact Jackson at huskieshousing@hotmail. com.

Roster shaping up

Five familiar faces will return to Haliburton County for another season, with Ramsay confirming Patrick Saini, Lucas Stevenson, Jack Staniland, Lucas Marshall and Zack Morissette will all be back.

Three young players – 17-year-old forward Noah Lodoen, and 18-year-old blueliners Lucas Vacca and Hunter Martell – have signed with the Huskies for the 2023/24 season.

“We’re losing 16 guys from our roster last season, so that’s a big turnover. We want to be competitive again and will be icing a quality team,” Ramsay said, noting his goal is to make the playoffs for the third straight season.

There will be a key change behind the scenes this coming season. Assistant general manager and director of player relations, Brian MacKenzie, has left the team to take up a coaching role with a prep school in Toronto. Replacing him is Kevin Bloch, a longtime coach and scout who recently worked with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League.