Billet Life

By: Wanda Westover

Billet Life

Tags: Owen Sound, hockey, Attack, Owen Sound Attack, World Juniors, Team Canada, Hockey Night in Canada,

Billet Life 

A conversation with Owen Sound Attack Captain, Nick Suzuki
photo credit to Owen Sound Attack

We sent local writer Nelson Phillips out for coffee to meet with Nick to chat all about being in our area, and find out what life is like living with a local billet family. 

 
 
After any given Owen Sound Attack home game, expect the crosstown traffic to be reminiscent of cosmopolitan rush-hour gridlock, thanks to 3,500 people spilling out of the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre after watching the Bears play. Those folks are all headed home, but what about the players? Where do they go after they hang up their skates for the night?
 
Cue billet families — dedicated locals who offer free room and board to junior ice hockey players who are forced to leave home - often at very young ages - to play and hone their craft in unfamiliar towns. For Nick Suzuki, home has been under the roof of Phil and Sarah Rowe, where he’s lived during the regular season since he was 16-years-old.

We sat down with Nick for a chat about life in Owen Sound, the concept of home, and how the billet experience plays into his dominant on-ice persona.
 
 
Owen Sound Attack
 
 
NP
So, who are your billets, and can you explain a bit about how the billet process happens?
 
NS
My billets are Phil and Sarah Rowe. It’s really up to the GM of the team (Dale DeGray), and they assign each player to a billet home.
 
NP
Did you get to meet them or have any interaction with them prior to moving in?
 
NS
You don’t really get to meet them before you get to the house, but the GM picks great families and great houses for us to go to, and it’s usually a pretty smooth process.
 
NP
What are the housing requirements for players? What do you require for a space as a player?
 
NS
Basically, you must have your own bedroom, a new rule is everyone has to have access to Wi-Fi at the house… Good cooking and good meals — I’ve never heard of a bad billet here in Owen Sound, everyone’s been good.
 
 
 We’ve all heard the cliched slogan that many real estate agents spew over social media, citing the emotional and cultural differences between a house and a home. 
 
It must be tough coming into a new community with little knowledge of the area, and no family around - but the billet arrangement is a powerful factor in Canadian junior hockey that helps develop a unique culture of togetherness and community. 
 
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NP
A lot of players come out of billet arrangements thinking of their billets as family. How does this kind of living arrangement contribute to your play for the Attack? Know what I mean? Does it correspond, does it help with ability to play well?
 
NS
Yeah, totally. I came in at 16 and moved in with this family and they really opened their home to me and I really do think of them as family… They’ve been helping me throughout my whole career here and once you get comfortable having a great billet makes it even more fun to be here and also helps a lot to make you more confident and comfortable as a young kid. I’ve had roommates as well, so it’s been a lot of fun being there.
 
NP
Roommates as in teammates?
 
NS
Yeah (laughs)
 
NP
How many of you live at this one billet’s house?
 
NS
Right now it’s three - when I first came here there was also three, so I’ve had a couple of roommates for a while, different ones obviously. I’ve had Sean Durzi living with me for the last three seasons and now this season.
 
NP
So does billet culture play a big role in team culture? I’m assuming that because you share a home with your teammates, it helps you out on the ice as well.
 
NS
Yeah, it does. If you have a roommate, you get pretty close. You’re around each other basically 24/7 and it helps with the team and chemistry, I guess… It’s a really good bond to have and you get to know that person a lot more. Sean and I have really become best friends over the last three seasons and it’s a relationship you’re never going to lose.
 
NP
This is the smallest OHL market, by far. What’s it been like transitioning from a city like London to a small rural town like Owen Sound? What’s unique about here and what did you find to be the most difficult thing to adjust to?
 
NS
Really, it wasn’t that tough of a transition. My billets are actually from the London area and have ties to London, so that was a pretty cool connection to have. There hasn’t really been anything difficult for me, I’ve been loving my time here. I love the small town feel. Everything’s pretty close, and even the other billets - no one is far from each other so you can go hang out with your teammates at any time.
 
NP
Is there something unique about playing away from home? Say if you played for the (London) Knights, would it be different?
 
NS
Coming into the OHL, I did want to move away and have that billet experience. That was something I was really looking forward to. I ended up having amazing billets... They’ve been so great to every one of us. I think if I was living at home it would be a bit different. I think having this experience and moving away is going to help me in my career, for sure.
 
NP
So guys who are from Guelph or Mississauga or London would miss out if they didn’t move away? Is it beneficial to the hockey experience?
 
NS
Each guy is different. I know guys that really wanted to be at home, which is up to them - but I think it’s a big experience to have going through life. It’ll help you a long way. Being able to have a billet that treats you like family is pretty cool to have.
 

 
 
Hockey may reign supreme as the glue that holds this place together, but there’s a lot of other cultures in and around Owen Sound, specifically our relationship with the outdoors. 
 
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the old saying goes — so what’s the team do in between games around here? 
 
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 NS
We’ve been lucky enough to come back early some years and go out on the water and to be out on the Bay is pretty cool. I’ve been to Inglis Falls a few times, and love to get out on the trails. I actually live out near the Legacy Ridge Golf Course and they have a pretty awesome trail behind there. The outdoors is pretty special here.
 
NP
Where goes the team go if you’ve got a chance to do something like a team-building experience. Where’s your go-to spot?

 NS
We don’t get out of the city too often, but a few guys will go golfing, that type of thing. Last year we had a big scavenger hunt around the city and that was pretty fun. It helps some of the younger guys to get to know the city and feel more comfortable.
 
We are a community that thrives on hockey and a good old-fashioned Saturday night out at the hockey game. What makes this place even better is our community. We open the doors to our homes and welcome these young athletes into our families. We help them grow as young men and teach them about this place and everything it has to offer.  We are lucky to have this team here and to show these players and their families a true sense of community. This place truly is where you want to live.