Sharyn, Jada and Eton Burke, accompanied by former billeted player Max Barron.
Ottawa – It’s always difficult for a young hockey player to leave home to play in another city. That’s where billet families like the Burkes come in.
With their three children having been active in the sport, the Burkes know first-hand some of the challenges young players face when moving away from their parents.
“We’re their home away from home,” says Sharyn Burke. “They need a place where they can feel comfortable. So we treat the players who stay here just like they’re family. I do lay down the rules and we expect that they follow them.”
The “rules” actually aren’t all that onerous. The players have to do their laundry, keep their room clean, and stay current on their schoolwork. They’re also expected to let the family know if they’ll be home late or if friends from the team or school will be coming over.
The Burkes, who reside in Ottawa, are a consummate hockey family. Their oldest son Taurean, 34, is now a special constable in Brockville, and has coached the sport for several years, including stints in the CCHL with Nepean and Brockville. Jaren, 25, was a standout for the Ottawa Jr. Senators before moving on to play Division I at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. He now plays for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Jada, 21, is entering her senior year as a forward at Division I Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.
Sharyn said the Burkes “fell into” becoming a billet family several years ago when two Junior Senators players needed a place to stay for the remainder of the season. The Burkes thought about it and quickly agreed. Since then they have regularly housed players from the nearby Nepean Raiders and last season began hosting players from the Junior Senators again. In all, eight players have billeted with the Burkes.
“When I get a call from Marty (Martin Dagenais), I always want to get some information on the players that he wants to send me. I’m always curious to know who they are, where they come from, and where they were playing hockey,” said Sharyn. “The next step, is to have their families come over so the parents can see where the kids are going to be staying. It’s also an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other. Then the player moves in.”
“The thing with Sharyn and Eton is that you know the players will be happy there, and as an organization, that’s all we can ask for, said Dagenais, who has known the Burke family for six years now. Their oldest son Taurean is a good friend of mine, and Jaren was one of my favorite players to coach so I knew who Sharyn and Eton were before sending players to their house. They are great people, so I was really happy when Sharyn told me she would billet two of our players.”
Sharyn, who is Senior Administrative Officer at St. Patrick’s High School, not far from the Jim Durrell Recreation Center, supplies her billets with plenty of food so they can make their own breakfast and lunch during the week. On Sunday the family gathers around as she makes a big breakfast filled with staples like eggs, sausage, bacon, and toast. The real treat, however, comes in the evening when Eton Burke arrives home. A land surveyor by trade, Eton generally makes sumptuous dinners.
Tyler Laureault, a goalie who played for the Junior Sens last season and Nepean the year before, stayed with the Burkes for two years, and was a big fan of Eton’s culinary skills, particularly the shepherd’s pie.
“I don’t know exactly what he put into it, but it was delicious,” Laureault said. “I never had a bad meal there.”
Most evenings everyone in the household gathers around the television to watch Family Feud, sort of a Burke family tradition; talk hockey, perhaps play a few video games, and relax.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Laureault, who now plays for the Trenton Golden Hawks. “The Burkes are good people and you could talk to them about everything. And they know hockey. So you could come home and go over how things were going or that night’s game. That made everything so much easier, especially when things weren’t going so well on the ice.”
Naturally, the Burkes develop a rooting interest in their visitors.
“Depending on when the game starts, we’ll go down and watch them play,” she said. “That kind of keeps me in the rink, though not as much as I used to be.” If not, we’ll watch it on TV so we can talk about it with them.
Sharyn noted that the family and billets stay in touch. One former resident, Max Barron, who played for the Raiders, reaches out to Sharyn every Mother’s Day and even invited the family to his wedding in St. Louis, Missouri, where he introduced them as his “billet Mom and Dad.”
“It works both ways,” Sharyn Burke said. “We do our best to make it comfortable for them. It’s also very rewarding for us. We make friends for life. The hockey community really extends all over the world. It’s amazing how connected it is.”
When asked what he would say to a player about to billet with the Burke’s, Laureault, said, “I’d tell him he lucked out.”