Hockey might be the common denominator that gets the door opened, but for many host families, it is the start of a relationship with a young man that continues well past his playing days. Known as billet families, the Steele County Blades are seeking a few more hosts for players on the roster for the coming season.

Families in Owatonna have offered up rooms in their homes for well over a decade now, dating back to the time of the Express and continuing now with the Blades. The benefits can be measured in several different ways.

Blades coach Nick Adamek says, "Families all get a stipend from the team for each player just to cover costs. The big thing with billeting is making sure that your kids have a role model to look up to, and our kids, the players themselves, have a nice family setting to distract them from what the rigors of what a junior hockey season may be."

"It's definitely the bonds they create in a short amount of time. We've got kids coming from all over the country, frankly all over the globe. Getting to know someone from California in small town Minnesota has been eye-opening for some of the families and definitely eye-opening for some of our players."

"The ability to become one with a family you know nothing about has been really good. The ties with the billet families with our previous players is still there. They're parts of families. They're in weddings...connecting with young children in the house, grandchildren has been our biggest success."

Billet families get a season ticket for each member of their household. "The billet families are kind of like our booster club...There's a little bit of a bond between the billets themselves here in town, people looking to possibly meet other families."

I personally have heard stories of Owatonna families planning their vacations around visiting players that lived with them while skating in town. Others have made road trips to watch the players continue their hockey careers at colleges near and far. Contact Marge at 507-456-4960 or mmsteinbauer@yahoo.com to find out more about being a billet.

Adamek says there will be quarantining as the players arrive from around the world and social distancing will be implemented at the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna. Other protocols are being addressed by the team and the league as conditions warrant.

Adamek says its been a very unusual off-season as he and the staff assemble a team through much video review rather than face-to-face contact, "Up until June I hadn't gone anywhere. We were still signing hockey players at that point but most of that's done through video and networking with other coaches that we know and trust."

He was heading out to a showcase in Denver when we spoke recently, "Usually I have three or four other flights under my belt." Adamek foresees a young team with just a handful of players back from last season.

The Blades, entering their ninth season in Owatonna, are due to bring players in for training camp around the end of August. Steele County's first game is slated for late September.