From left to right: Leslie, sister Kerry, nephew Colin, brother-in-law Chris celebrating the 2019 Bogart Cup Championship.
Ottawa – A junior hockey team is comprised of far more than its players and coaches. The “team” typically includes a slew of game day volunteers, as well as many others who contribute to its success. Among these unsung heroes are the billets like Lesley Sturla who host out-of-town players.
Sturla has hosted two Junior Senators players for each of the past three seasons. She became a billet “aunt” literally because she was asked by her nephew, forward Colin Marshall, who joined Ottawa in 2018.
“Colin called and said he would be playing here and asked if he could stay with me,” she said. “I told him, ‘of course, I’ve been trying to steal you from your mother for years.’ Then he called again and told me one of his friends was also coming to Ottawa and he also needed a place to stay.”
Sturla said her main job is making the players feel comfortable in their new surroundings. There are a few rules, naturally. She asks that the players keep their rooms neat, stay on top of their school work, help out around the house and to generally respect their living quarters. Lesley, who works full-time, supplies the ingredients so the players can make their breakfast and lunch. In the evening she makes dinner, occasionally calling on her billets to help.
“I always try to teach them new skills,” said Lesley, with a chuckle. “So if they come to me and they don’t know how to do laundry, I return them to their mothers with the ability to do that.”
Whether she attends a match in person or watches online, she rarely discusses the game itself afterwards. Instead Sturla notes when the announcer says something positive about one of her “nephews.” She often texts the players’ family members following a good play or an on-air mention.
Although Sturla didn’t play hockey herself, she’s been around the game most of her life. She’s known several players and families of players over the years.
“Personally, I have no experience with hockey,” she said. “So I absolutely cannot talk to them about their performance on the ice. In some ways, I think that’s a little better because there are tons of people who’ll tell them what they did right or wrong or how they could improve. The only thing I’m really qualified to tell them is how good they look in their uniforms.”
Eighteen-year-old Wil Murphy is coming back for a second season with the Junior Sens and will again billet at Sturla’s home. Murphy said he learned a lot last season and noted that he and his billet brother felt very much at home there.
“I do my own laundry at home now and Lesley would be happy to hear that,” he said when interviewed during the summer. “I was a little nervous at first when I moved in, but it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned how to make more than just eggs and toast. And dinner is always fun. We eat and talk about the day’s events. No cell phones are allowed.”
For her part, Sturla enjoys the “job.”
“I’ve been fortunate because all of the players that have stayed here are exceptional young men,” she said. “I’ve known people whose kids have gone away to play. So I know that a positive experience can really help a Junior A player. I want the players who come to me, and their families, to know that they can come here and they don’t have to worry about the house or whether there will be a meal on the table. They can focus on the things that are important: their school work and game play.”