The Plymouth Observer’s Tim Smith wrote a superb article discussing the roles that billet families play in the lives of Team USA’s National Team Development Program players:
The long journey for National Hockey League players such as Detroit Red Wings star forward Dylan Larkin involves plenty of God-given talent and a non-stop desire to excel.
But that quest often requires a necessary pit stop for players in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, where Larkin cut his teeth before moving on to the University of Michigan and the NHL.
We’re talking about unsung heroes — billet families who provide stability, friendship and a calm-before-the-storm environment for the teenagers who spend two years hundreds and even thousands of miles from their actual homes.
The next Larkin, Patrick Kane or Auston Mathews goes through their paces on the ice in hopes of hearing their name called someday by an NHL general manager. Off the ice, they can’t get to that destination without down-to-earth people such as the Birchlers, McKendrys and Wrights, among many others.
They give unconditional love and friendship — and no matter where a player winds up, it’s as valuable to success as skating, stickhandling and sniping top shelf.
“My host family is a special group,” said Luke Martin, a defenseman in the NTDP from 2014-16 currently at the University of Michigan and drafted in 2017 by the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. “They made it (transition to U-M) incredibly easy on me. You have bad days while at the NTDP, but my host family understood that and made it easy to just come home and be myself around them.”
Smith continues at significant length…