From right to left: Mark Freel, David Mabey, Stephanie Freel and Thomas Freel.
Ottawa – With an extra bedroom and their son already playing for the Ottawa Junior Senators, Mark and Stephanie Freel figured “why not” open their home to a billet. Since then, the
Thomas Freel, who was named the CCHL Week 2 Player of the Week is a hard-working winger with a knack for putting the puck in the net. In 2019, he moved up from the Junior Sens U18 team to the local Junior B team and then to the Junior A roster. Word soon got around that the team was in need of a few billet families.
“We have a rental unit attached to our house and the tenants were moving out,” Mark Freel explained. “At the time we knew the Junior Senators were looking for billets, so we figured we’d give it a go and try to help out. We reached out to [former General Manager and Coach] Martin Dagenais to let him know we were available.”
Since then, the Freels have hosted three players: Brent Broaders, Ian
“We already had three young adults of our own in the house but adding one more only made our family dynamics better,” Stephanie Freel said. “For both of my other teens our billet was just another big brother, one who had cool stories to tell from different places.”
The Freels’ daughter, Rebecca, 18, is a student at Ottawa University, while Peter, 16, plays forward for the
“Being a billet family has brought a lot of happiness and new experiences into our lives,” Stephanie Freel said. “We’ve had two long-term billets (Tookenay and Mabey) and both boys very quickly became part of our family.”
It was a little difficult when Broaders was traded to Smiths Falls. While the Freels were sorry to see the big defenseman go, Mark said they also knew Boarders would have a chance to play a bigger role on his new team.
“Martin and [Ottawa GM] Jamie Mayo do a great job of checking out the kids that play for the Junior Sens,” Thomas said. “Character is important. They really do their homework. The players we’ve had and all the Junior Sens players we know are really fantastic young men.”
Their home is about a kilometer from Walkley Road and the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre, Ottawa’s home rink. As a result, the Freels have had the opportunity to meet and “entertain” many of the Junior Sens players who congregate there during breaks between dry land training and practice. They’ve also temporarily hosted players during Ottawa’s summer training camps.
“We’re in demand because we have a convenient location,” Mark chuckled. “Seriously, though it’s a pleasure to be around these young men. They’re good, hard-working kids. It’s very rewarding to see them do well.”
He added that it’s important to form a good relationship with a billet’s parents and make the experience as comfortable as possible for each player. There are a few rules: The youngsters must keep up with their schoolwork, respect their living quarters, and the Freels know in advance if visitors are coming over.
“We try to have a sit-down family meal together every evening,” Stephanie said. “This isn’t always easy with six people and our busy schedule, but we do our best. Being together and catching up on what we’ve all been doing is one of my favorite things about being a billet mom. I love family meal times when the conversation is buzzing about what the boys have been doing both on and off the ice.”
Both Mark and Stephanie have always understood that as billet “parents” they can have a very positive impact on the player. Last year—in a way—they were paid back. Because of the pandemic the CCHL season was cancelled, and the Junior Senators loaned Thomas Freel to the New Brunswick, Nova Scotia-based Campbellton
“Being a billet family is about giving back to the community and providing a home away from home for the young men who are following their dream of playing high level Junior A hockey with OJS,” Stephanie explained. “Last year, all of a sudden, I was experiencing what it was like to have my son billeting with another family. Thomas was placed with a wonderful couple who were already billets to another player. Having a ready-made family who were supporters of the team made his transition and stay an experience he will never forget.”
Just like the players who stay with the Freels.