Strangers open up homes, hearts to young hockey players

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — He’s part of the home team even though Matthew Alexander is far from home.

But thanks to the Dickenson’s, it doesn’t feel like it.

“I wake up and they have big, huge pancakes made,” said the Portage Terriers defenceman. “I come up in my jammies. I don’t have to get all dressed up to come eat.”

Alexander crashes during the hockey season at the Dickenson’s place in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba located roughly 800 kilometres from his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The 21-year-old is one of a handful of junior hockey players the family has billeted over the last five years.

“The fact we can give somebody a home, a foundation so that we have the security for them to carry on and be as good as they can be in playing hockey,” said billet Melanie Dickenson.

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A warm welcome that allows players to forget about the little things.

“I don’t pay any bills,” said Alexander. “All my meals are made for me. It’s pretty nice to have that.”

“If they feel comfortable, then they feel no pressure,” said billet Rodney Dickenson. “If they feel welcomed, the performance on the ice will speak for it.”

Billets aren’t in it for the fame nor the money. At most, they get a couple hundred dollars a month from the team to help feed or house the players. Hockey organizations across Canada rely on these types of volunteers to help keep their programs on the ice.

“Your billet program, the people that take the kids into your home, is just as important as anyone else on the team,” said Terriers head coach and general manager Blake Spiller. “They bring them into their house, treat them as your own and it’s normally a great experience for both.”

Sparking life long friendships between hockey players and hosts.

“When he finally leaves this year, it’s going to be different,” said Melanie. We’re going to miss him.”

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