Wranglers at home on ice, but without billet program players would be homeless | SteamboatToday.com

Wranglers at home on ice, but without billet program players would be homeless

Defenseman Cory Kohut helps the Wranglers skate to victory last season. The Wranglers rely on local families to open their doors , so that players like Kohut can come and play in our mountain town.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Lukens,

The players on this year’s Steamboat Wranglers junior hockey team may already be dreaming of bringing home a title in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.

But before they can do that, the players will need to find a place to call home for the next several months and a place to lay their heads when they are not on the ice, not in class and not working to become a part of the communities they represent.

“They will be coming from all over the country,” said Michelle McNamara, who is acting as the Wrangler’s Billet Coordinator for the 2017-18 season. She said the players will be between the age 16 and 20.

McNamara, who is the mother of four hockey players herself, has been charged with lining up housing for 23 of the Wrangler’s 25 players this season and has embarked on the task of finding about 20 local families who are willing to take a player in for a three or six month period. Last year, she provided housing for two Wrangler players and feels the idea of asking local families to take players into their homes is good for the team and, also, the community.

“It’s huge, and it’s an integral part of the success of the junior hockey team,” McNamara said.

She said hosting a player is similar to the Rotary Club’s foreign exchange program. Host families are expected to invite the players into their homes, provide them with a furnished room and at least one hot meal per day. The first session begins Aug. 20 and runs through Dec. 20. The players will then have a short holiday break before returning for the second session, which runs Jan. 5 through March 30. McNamara is currently focused on housing for the first half of the season but said if a family wants to, it can host players for the entire six month period.

In return, the family receives a $400 per month and two tickets to the Wranglers home games. But McNamara said those families actually receive many other things from the experience, not the least of which is the chance to support young players as they chase their dreams on the ice.

“In return, the host family forms a bond with a young player that will last long after the hockey season comes to an end,” McNamara said.

The Wranglers players will start arriving in late August. New coach Joakim Falt said the team will not begin practicing until September, but many of the team’s younger players will be attending Steamboat Springs High School and will need to be in town when classes begin.

“If you don’t have a good billet program, then you don’t have a team,” Falt said.

But, he agrees the rewards of housing a player will last longer than the season or even the player’s hockey career.

“These families will have a friend for life,” he said. “They will be like a stepson for seven or eight months and, in many cases, they will stay in contact with these families for the rest of their lives.”

The Wranglers will open the team’s second season in Steamboat Springs on Oct. 6 at home. Last year, the team lost to Aspen in the finals to finish second overall in the league. This year, the team is looking to continue that success and, hopefully, cap the year off with its first league title. But before that can happen, the players will need some kind Steamboat families to open their doors.

Anyone interested in being a part of the program or who has questions can contact McNamara at 970-367-6830 or mg-mcnamara@comcast.net

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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