Nothing compares to a warm meal and a comfortable bed after a hard game of hockey and if your own mom happens to be miles away, well, maybe a temporary foster mom can help.

Billet families often treat visiting players like one of their own. Sugar King David Savery has been welcomed this hockey season to the Bloomingdale home of Cindy and Don Uhrig and their kids Stephanie, Michael, Mathew and Justin.[Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Billet families often treat visiting players like one of their own. Sugar King David Savery has been welcomed this hockey season to the Bloomingdale home of Cindy and Don Uhrig and their kids Stephanie, Michael, Mathew and Justin. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Billet families have been an important part of Junior hockey, and that’s certainly the case for a number of Sugar Kings who will soon be spending a lot of time away from home. This season will see more local families offer their hospitality to the young players, providing them a home away from home.

“The billets are really critical to the success of the Sugar Kings. At the end of the day we would not be nearly as successful if we didn’t have families that took in out-of-region players,” said Sugar Kings general manager Paul Jennings this week.

The Kings saw a smaller turnover last season, he said, and this time around a younger roster caused the club to reach out to six families willing to extend a warm and long-term welcome.

The club’s list of those willing to accommodate players from outside of the region includes families who have created strong ties to players in the past.

For two weeks now, Cindy Uhrig and her husband Don have been hosting David Savery of Barrie at their Bloomingdale-area home, where the Sugar King was made to feel welcome with the couple’s four children.

“This is our third billet. He’s just fit in beautifully; he’s a wonderful kid …” said Cindy Uhrig this week.

“David actually got them reading again. He took them to the library, got them reading – he’s just a nice guy all around. He just fits in with everybody – it’s nice to see that he feels comfortable,” she said.

The Uhrigs are a hockey family, she explained. Billeting is a way to show support for the local team and provide the kids with good role models. Two of her sons help out as volunteers for the Sugar Kings and Savery is a role model on and off the ice for the boys. He even helps out with the dishes, and assists the kids with projects and activities.

The Uhrigs are the fourth billet family Savery, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University, has stayed with throughout his hockey career.

“It was pretty easy to move in because they are so welcoming. They made me feel like I was part of the family,” Savery said.

The family has hosted for the Kings twice before and still keeps in close contact with the players. This summer, they went camping with Brady Campbell, who stayed at their home before heading to Maine this year on an NCAA scholarship. He plans to visit the family again at Christmas.

“We treat them as family. This will always be their home,” Uhrig said.

Watching the boys they take in play their game is always a joy, she added.

“We feel proud. It’s like our own kids we’re watching out there.”

The local families offer room and board for young players but the objective for coaching staff is to match each visiting Sugar King with a home away from home. Some longtime billet families include LuAnn and Graham Snyder, and Laurie and Bruce Shantz, who have billeted for the Kings for 15 years.

“I have a four-year-old grandson who is hockey-crazy and I find it very easy. I have a busy household, I have four kids – I have three boys, I just figure one more boy was not a big deal,” Shantz said this week.

“Everybody goes ‘Why do you do it? I wouldn’t want a stranger in my house.’ I think the minute they walk through the door they are not strangers anymore, they are part of our family.”

Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.

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