Submitted by Kait Burgan.
The Nanaimo Clippers Junior A Hockey Team is a significant part of life in Nanaimo. Since the franchise was founded in 1972, players, coaches, volunteers and fans alike have memories and never-before-told stories that contribute to the fabric of the team we cheer for today. We will share some of those stories and behind the scenes insights in what we call “Legends & Locals.”
Players from all over North America come to Nanaimo to join the team, and they need somewhere to stay while they play. Lenora Hazelbower has been providing a family away from their own for team members since 2014. She started with one, Jake Wozney, and since then has billeted 11 other players, with two more moving in this coming season.
“They’re great kids, very polite and they’re very respectful and fun.” She laughs as she says this, remembering some funny moments. Her joy is genuine and contagious. “They just kinda become your own kid”, Hazelbower says from her desk at the Nanaimo Clippers office where she’s worked in administration since May of this year.
Hazelbower had attended a few games before the idea of hosting players was even on the table. A former boss of hers suggested she become a billet and after leaving the application form at the side of her desk for a few weeks, Hazelbower got a follow-up phone call. Then came a quick home visit by Clippers staff and then shortly after, her application was approved. Hazelbower is convinced it had something to do with the fresh, home-made apple pie on the counter but maintains the boys like cookies better.
Wozney stayed with Hazelbower but ended up getting traded a couple of months into the season. Players can stay with a billet family for a few short months, to a couple of years and any length of time between, depending on the trajectory of their hockey careers.
Hazelbower hosted two players after Wozney left; Yanni Kaldis (who she just visited in Montreal on a recent holiday to visit her daughter) and Taylor Green. “Two is better than one,” Hazelbower says. “They have company for each other, and they get along well. My guys have gotten along really well. There’s nobody home alone.”
Kaldis and Green were her second and third billets and since then, Hazelbower has hosted Brendan Shane, Matt Creamer, Adam Donnelly, Ben Taylor, Will Reilly, DJ Petruzzelli, David Silye, Myles Cunningham and Jakob Severson.
Will Reilly, as you may be aware, was recently drafted by the Pittsburg Penguins. “The way that kid skated. He would just glide on the ice,” she recalls of watching him at Frank Crane. “He was very graceful, a really graceful skater. He was a good powerful skater too. He was always making good plays.”
Off the ice, Lenora says he was a “really sweet kid”. When I asked her if she gets tickets for life to the NHL games any of “her boys” are playing in she laughs, and says, “I’ll have to work on that.”
Hazelbower likes being a surrogate hockey mum. “They’re great kids and having them around has been awesome.”
You can’t billet twelve hockey players, with two more on the way, without getting a bit of reputation. There has been more than one occasion when she’s come home to an empty cookie jar and a living room full of hockey players. Word gets around that she’s a good and she has no hesitation in saying she’d take more than two if she had the room.
The Clippers didn’t make it too far into the playoffs last season, and Hazelbower has been without a billet since March. She’ll have a full house again later in August and is looking forward to the youthful energy of two more new players to the Nanaimo Clippers team.
There are still billet homes needed for this year’s team members. Hazelbower says that while some of the boys do eat a lot, the blanket rumour that they’ll eat you out of house and home is not always accurate. Being a billet is a rewarding experience, an opportunity to build life long friendships and a chance to be a part of something amazing.
For more information on becoming a Nanaimo Clippers billet, contact Lenora Hazelbower at [email protected].
Picture info: Yanni Kaldis, Lenora Hazelbower and Will Reilly (top); Yanni Kaldis and Brendan Shane (middle); Will Reilly and Yanni Kaldis (bottom).
• • • • •
For more information on the Nanaimo Clippers, and to become a member of the Clippers Hockey Society, visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.
“Suddenly, it’s not out of reach to own a hockey team!”