As is the norm in junior hockey circles, players often come from areas outside of their new team and have to adjust to life in a new town with new people and often, with a new family.
Known as billets, families in the area take in out-of-town players and make them a part of their immediate family.
Two Flint-area families are two such families that house Michigan Warriors players and immediately adjusted to life with a hockey-playing teenager (or two) living in the house.
“Our reason for billeting was to offer the opportunity for a young man to continue to live his dream,” said Krista Ketterer, who, along with her husband, Phil, and daughter, Hannah, house defenseman Ryan Trenz and also had Ian Miller before he was traded last month. “We’d love to see Ryan get a scholarship to a D-I college and later see him in the pros. We never expected to feel so close to Ryan and his family. I know that we’ll stay in touch even after he leaves.
“We love hockey and knew that we’d be helping out. Our friends thought we were crazy. When Ryan arrived, he just seemed to fit in. I think it was because we’d spent a few weeks emailing and asking questions so we knew a little about each other. I also spent many hours emailing with his mother so his family would know all about us.”
Cindy and Rick Rzepka and their son, Ethan, have taken forward Andrew Kolb, a Toledo native, into their family and treat him as their own.
“We’ve tried to make Andrew feel like part of the family by including him in everything we’re doing, from going to see Ethan’s third-grade concert to participating in Ethan’s hockey practice,” said Cindy Rzepka. “We always try to eat dinner together when Andrew doesn’t have classes and get to catch up with each other’s activities then. He’s very busy with school and hockey, so we get him involved where we can.
“I wanted my son to have the experience of having a big brother, at least for a little while. Having him have someone to look up to and encourage him in his hockey activities is a great benefit. I’m also learning a lot about hockey and the various leagues for these young athletes to pursue their careers.”
Word of mouth helped Cindy and her family decide to become billets and the word came from a familiar source.
“Krista had told me about billeting while we were at our kids’ hockey practice,” Cindy said. “She had told me how Ryan Trenz and Ian Miller had been like big brothers to Hannah and how much Hannah liked showing them for ‘show-and-tell’ at school. I thought it sounded like it would be a good experience for my son, since he’s an only child, so I went to the Warriors Web site and contacted the billet coordinator to fill out an application.”
Both Krista and Cindy had initial concerns about taking in a virtual stranger, but those concerns dissipated in no time flat.
“Before Andrew arrived, I was a little concerned about being able to make Andrew feel at home, providing the kind of foods he likes, giving him enough privacy - things like that,” Cindy explained. “I’ll always be concerned that I’m providing Andrew a comfortable place to live and relax while away from home. He’s been told to speak up if he needs anything.”
Krista’s concerns mirrored Cindy’s.
“My biggest concern was what to do if the player is a punk, but we were assured that these players were selected because of their character and hockey-playing abilities and if we had any problems with our billet player, the team would take care of it immediately,” said Krista.
“We had a few other concerns in the beginning, including the possibility of a player being traded. No one thinks that it will happen to them, but it did to us. It was tough on all of us, especially our little girl who’s become very attached to the boys. She calls them her billet brothers, makes them cards at school and loves hanging out with them.
“The other concern was knowing that in this sport, there’s always a possibility of an injury. Ryan is from St. Louis, so knowing that his family is a good 10-hour drive from us, we’d be responsible for making sure that they’re updated all of the time if he got injured. Imagine having to call a parent to tell them that their child has a concussion, and yes, we had to do that.”
Both families plan on being billet families next season as both Krista and Cindy said the experience has been beyond rewarding and beyond fun, even if Hannah’s NHL colors have gone from the Detroit Red Wings to the St. Louis Blues.
“At some point over the course of this season, we’ve had the pleasure of having practically every player over at our house,” said Krista. “They’ve all been very polite, respectful and just plain ‘ol great young men. We can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future and we’ll be able to say, 'I knew them when…'”