Behind the Game: Billet families create a home away from home for Edmonton Oil Kings players

In junior hockey, it’s common for the teenage players to pack their bags and leave the family home at a young age to play the game.

It can’t be easy for them and it can’t be easy for parents, but on the other end in the junior city is a family opening its doors to these athletes. Billeting is a staple in the sport.

Edmonton’s Bev and Frank Gardner have been fans of the Oil Kings for years, so with their kids grown and out of the house, they figured why not host these youngsters.

The two just wrapped up their fourth season as billets.

“The moment that they walk through your door they’re part of your family,” Bev said. “They’re just like your own son.

“You’re always giving them support, encouragement and, like I say, you want to see them grow and be the best person that they can be, on and off the ice,” she said.

The Gardners have hosted four different Oil Kings players in their time: Kobe Mohr, Aidan Lawson, this year’s captain Scott Atkinson, and Belarusian import player Vladimir Alistrov.

But their open door policy has ensured they know most of the players.

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s our billet or any of the other boys come, we still treat them as if they’re all the same,” Frank said.

“We’ve always said to them…our house is your house,” Bev said. “I’ll just say, ‘You know I’ve got extra steaks, do you want some of the boys to come home from practice?’ It doesn’t take much encouragement.”

The bonds built in a billet home are hard to describe; the hosts see the highs and lows of a hockey player’s junior career and build bonds that can last a lifetime.

“Just being around these young guys it really is just fun,” said Frank. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Just seeing them go through these life experiences and being there to support them, it just fills your heart.”

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