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‘It’s been a pretty quiet house’: Lethbridge Hurricanes billet families missing more than just the hockey

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WATCH: In a normal year, the Lethbridge Hurricanes would be about halfway through the WHL season by now. But with junior hockey on pause, it’s left more than just the ice empty. Danica Ferris has more on how billet families are dealing with the absence of their adopted sons. – Dec 31, 2020

In a normal year, the Lethbridge Hurricanes would be about halfway through the Western Hockey League season, and players would be long-settled into their billet homes. But with a start date for the upcoming WHL season still unknown, the families that house the junior hockey players have a notable absence.

For Meghan and Darren Calder, their family is without an adopted son for the first time in nearly 14 years.

Read more: Lethbridge Hurricanes’ Cotton and Wheatcroft enjoying time in AJHL

“It’s like you don’t have some of your kids around, and so yeah it’s kind of weird,” said Meghan Calder. “I think we’ve had 13 different players live in our house for various amounts of time. The shortest would have been like a weekend, or like a week during training camp during the opening of the season, and the longest was Ryan Vandervlis lived with us for four seasons.”

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Calder says their journey as billets started with the joke that they didn’t yet want babies, and would rather have teenagers. Now the pair have two boys of their own, who have never lived a year with a ‘Canes player in their home.

“Our sons are 10 and 11 and they don’t know anything else,” she laughed. “Our very first player, he plays in Europe — in Germany — and he’s 28. I said to him this year, ‘you’re the same age now that we were when we billeted you.”

Read more: Lethbridge’s Ridly Greig ‘soaking it in’ after being selected by Senators in 1st round of NHL draft

The Calders say the absence of players this year has perhaps been the strangest for their sons.

“Our boys are missing the nerf gunfights, and just hanging out and having that interaction with the older guys. They have gotten used to having some of the boys come out to some of their practices and that kind of stuff, so I know that they’re missing that,” she said.

The family has also noticed that trips to the grocery store are fewer and further between.

“It’s quite a bit different,” Darren said. “During the season we eat differently and everything, and now it’s like we get home later on and we’re like, ‘what are we going to make for supper?’ Usually, with the boys, it’s planned out.”

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Meals have also looked different for Kevin and Deanna Rath, who have spent the last few years hosting Dylan Cozens and Alex Cotton.

“It’s been a pretty quiet house. Dinner time, meals are different without them, that was our entertainment was when we would all sit around the table,” said Kevin.

Read more: Lethbridge Hurricanes players gather to watch teammates face off at World Junior Championship

The Raths decided to become billets four years ago, with Cozens — an NHL first-round draft pick and one of the best in the WHL — their first ever to move in.

“We always thought that if my kids had to go somewhere I would hope that they had somebody who wasn’t nuts looking after them. So we thought that we would take them in,” Deanna said.

Kevin says he’s also enjoyed how billeting adds another level to watching hockey games.

“I was always trying to drag Deanna to the hockey games, but she wasn’t interested because she didn’t know the players, but now she knows the players,” he laughed.

The relationship between the billets and their players isn’t just being missed by the families. Cotton says he’s grown close with his adopted family, as well as his adopted brother, Dylan.

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“The connection between me, Coz, Deanna and Kevin is pretty strong, like I really enjoy spending time with them and stuff like that,” Cotton said. “[Dylan’s] my best friend, so our connection is pretty strong and we just try to keep it light around the dinner table, make everyone laugh.”

Both Cotton and the Raths have spent the holiday season watching Cozens from afar as he competes for a second-straight year for Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championship.

As one of the older players this time around, Cozens has taken on what the Raths believe is a well-deserved leadership role.

Read more: Hurricanes teammates return to Lethbridge after World Junior Championship win

“He’s really developed over the years, and watching his game get progressively better as he went, maturing into the leader that he is now on the team with the leadership role,” said Kevin.

His Hurricanes teammate says he’s not surprised by Cozens’ success.

“I don’t think anyone really doubted that he was going to be a leader on that team this year, and obviously dominate the tournament like he is right now,” Cotton said.

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Canada is looking for back-to-back golds, with the world juniors wrapping up on Jan. 5.

Not knowing when the WHL will return, the Raths and Calders say they will happily welcome the players back, whenever the time comes.

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