Billet Families Are Win Win

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Billet families are win-win July 30, 2012 8:02 AM

WISCONSIN DELLS — In just a few weeks, the Dells Ducks will return to prepare for their sophomore season in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.

Junior hockey is new to the area and team management is seeking volunteers willing to serve as host families, or billets as they often are called.

Serving as billets often benefits both athletes and host families.

In 2008, then 16-year-old Tyler Pace was a senior at Reedsburg Area High School when he decided to take a serious shot at giving the sport of hockey all he had.

While playing on a Select Exhibition touring team in Switzerland, Pace was signed to play with the Twin Cities Northern Lights from the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.

In his first season, Tyler spent time with two billet families, ending up with the Skogg family. Ironically, the Skogg family had little interest in the sport of hockey.

“Stephanie, one of the team owners advertised for billets at her church,” said Pace. They had two girls aged six and eight and thought it would be good for them to have a big brother.”

Pace learned a lot playing for the Lights in 2008 while he and his family made new life long friends.

He has been away from Minnesota and back and he now studies at the University of Minnesota.

“Every month he goes out for dinner with the Skogg family,” said his mother adding, “They helped him move into the area. They even gave him a couch.”

Pace made a more dramatic move the following season, playing Tier II Junior Hockey in Restigouche, a Reedsburg-sized community in northeast Quebec, a community where English is the second language.

“He had a wonderful host family there as well,” said Pace adding, “This time it was three boys and a single mom. It was an experience for Pace in a community where the junior hockey players are all well known in the town.

Pace went full circle the following year, returning to Bloomington, Minn. for another season with the Lights and another stay with the Skogg family.

“They didn’t want to take another player,” said Teresa, “But when they heard Tyler was back, they said, we’ll take him.”

He capped his junior run in style, the Lights earning a berth in the USA National Junior Championships in Massachusetts. Pace was tendered by a Tier II Junior team in the North American Hockey League for his final year of junior hockey, but decided to forgo that and get on with his education.

For the Pace family, billeting a player with the Dells Ducks gives them a chance to provide an opportunity for a young player the way the Skoggs did for Tyler. They are happy to do it and Teresa said its not a difficult financial burden.

“A lot of people think about a teenage hockey player and how much they can eat, but they are reimbursed,” said Pace.

Families of the billeted players pay a fee of $350 that is transferred directly to the player.

Kelly Morris and his Baraboo family are looking to become billets this season, and specifically hopeful that returning defenseman Austin Zima will be able to spend the winter in their home.

Zima, a native of Roselle, Ill. joined the team after the Christmas break along with Ryan DeVine from the Philadelphia area.

Both made a big impression on then six-year-old Kaden Morris who attended almost every game last season along with his father, Kelly, mother Emily and younger brother Cameron who will be in the LearntoSkate program this season.

Kelly is a lifelong hockey fan originally from the Chicago area and he is thrilled to see his son has adopted his love of the game.

The Ducks are looking for additional billet families for the 2012-13 season in the Sauk County area. Like the Northern Lights, the Ducks play in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League and this season the team will play 21 home games at the Poppy Waterman Ice Arena.

Anyone interested in more information on billeting a player for the upcoming season can check the team’s website at http://www.dellsduckshockey.com, or contact Aaron Kirby, Dells Ducks vice president at aaron@dellsduckshockey.com.

By Jim den Hollander, Capital Newspapers

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