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For many talented hockey players chasing the dream of playing in the NHL, leaving home at a young age to pursue their goals is likely a reality.
Moving away during your early- to mid-teenaged years is difficult, but made easier by billet families that open their doors to these youngsters. These families that live in cities with junior teams across North America and Europe are crucial to the development of hockey players on and off the ice.
For Patrick Sharp — who won three Stanley Cups before retiring after the 2017-18 season and becoming an analyst for NBC Sports — an Ottawa family welcoming him and his brother in before he even turned 16 years old has left a lasting mark on him.
“Every player needs a support system — whether it’s family, whether it’s friend — and [almost] every player needs to leave home at some point at a very young age and chase their dream,” Sharp explained to Justin Cuthbert of Yahoo Sports Canada.
“That means leaving their family, going to a new city and you’re too young to be living on your own. So, in my situation, I left at the age of 15, it was my 16-year-old hockey year... I went to Ottawa, lived with a great family and I’m really grateful for everything that they did for me.”
Patrick and his older brother Chris lived with their billets while playing for the Kanata Valley Lasers of the Canadian Junior Hockey League during the 1997-98 season. The following year, the two suited up for the Thunder Bay Flyers of the United States Hockey League before Patrick’s career took him to the University of Vermont and eventually the NHL.
“We’ve created some lifelong memories and relationships [in] just the one year of living with the family,” he said about his time in Ottawa. “I think it’s just as Canadian as you can get, really, when you think about it. Opening your doors, your home to two random kids to come live with you so they can further their hockey dream... It turned out to be a great situation.”
Sharp also explained that billeting really isn’t that different from renting an Airbnb, a company that he represents.
“Essentially, it’s the same thing,” he said to Yahoo Sports Canada. “It’s home sharing, it’s opening your doors, being a good host and providing a little different landscape to a vacation you might have.”
In order to praise the connection between billeting young hockey players and hosting guests, Airbnb launched Billet Day in Canada on Monday. To celebrate, they will be donating $25,000 to the Greater Toronto Hockey League “to help support the next generation of hockey players in Canada,” according to a release by the company.
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