CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The Chippewa Steel Hockey Team has high hopes to continue last year’s success after the coronavirus ended their season last year. The league couldn’t host a team in Chippewa Falls without their billet families who open their homes for hockey players to stay during the season. With the Steel being so new, they’re still in need of these essential families. First News at Nine’s Jessica Mendoza explains.
The NAHL considers itself the league of opportunity. Young hockey players aged 16-20 who dream of playing professionally or in the NCAA know it takes big sacrifices to make those dreams come true.
Melisa and Eric Strong, billet family, said “They don’t know how long they’re going to be here. This is just like the professionals where there are cuts and there are trades.”
The Chippewa Steel is a Tier II junior hockey league, but they’re on the newer side only being around for three years now, and the program wouldn’t be possible without some very generous families behind the scenes.
Chris and Tami Yeager, billet family, said “They needed a lot of housing when they moved into the area and they were looking for extra beds and places for them to stay and I brought it to my husband’s attention because we had an extra room. So I said, let’s get a hockey player!”
The Haats family said, “Both of our boys play hockey so we thought it would be a good way to get other kids into the home as role models.”
Athletes often have to move states away, some even come from other countries, and billet families in the Chippewa Falls have opened their homes, to help these young men work toward their dreams.
“If we weren’t here then they wouldn’t be able to do it,” said a billet family member.
Playing for the steel develops hockey player’s performance on the ice. These billet families have an equally important role in helping them develop as young adults.
“I usually ask them, do you cook do you know how to do laundry, because each household is different where they come from,” said Melisa Strong.
Last year’s Team Captain and Forward Isaac Moberg is thankful for his billet experience and said in part quote “it taught me a lot about life lessons such as learning to live with other people that aren’t your family making your own food, doing laundry, and for the most part being your own man.”
While they aren’t related by blood, billet volunteers in Chippewa Falls say the hockey players become family.
“It was exciting. I thought it was just fun having someone to be there to play and stuff and to help us with our shots and skills,” said sons of the Haats family.
“It’s kind of like having a kid of your own that’s already trained,” said Scott and Heidi Christopher.
Eventually, the guys move on, sometimes after staying with a billet family for up to a year
“It’s bittersweet, but we keep in contact. They come and visit us, so they never really leave,” said Heidi Christopher.