Growing the Game: How Stampede Housing Families Support Players on and off the Ice
When a family decides to house a player from the Sioux Falls Stampede, the player might live with them for less than a full calendar year, but in that time, the family and player build a special bond that transcends the game of hockey.
A housing parent, often referred to as a billet parent, offers temporary housing for players out of the goodness of their heart for the duration of the hockey season.
Janet Joehnck and her husband, Jerry, have housed players for 15 seasons. The couple opened their home to teen-aged defensemen Nate Schweitzer and Brandon Tabakin this past season.
“They’re just like your own children,” Janet Joehnck said. “You treat them like your own kids, and they become a part of the family and you really hate to see them leave.”
Once the player moves into their own room in the house, Joehnck wastes no time making them feel welcome.
“We played cards. We played boardgames,” Joehnck recalled. “I don’t think [I’ve ever had a player] so shy that he wouldn’t come upstairs to eat or anything like that.”
The home away from home becomes a place where memories are made. In fact, many players spend an entire season without returning home, some due to distance, long travel, or pandemic protocols. During the holiday season, the Joehncks find ways to bring the holiday spirit to the players with family activities, including gift giving or cookie frosting.
Another part of the housing experience Joehnck enjoys is teaching her provisional family members new skills.
“Some of them don’t know how to cook. You try to teach them a little bit so that when they leave here and they go to college, they can at least cook a chicken breast or cook some noodles.”
While the Joehncks teach the players some skills that can be transferred to their future dorm rooms, the players teach them a thing or two about the game of hockey, which strengthens their connection even more.
“My husband grew up on a homestead in Alaska, so he knew nothing about sports,” Joehnck added. “So, this was something that he got involved with, and having a player here at the house made him interested in where he could learn hockey, the rules and the regulations. It just kind of made something we could do as a family.”
The bond does not stop with the player. The host families often become close with their players’ biological families, which starts on the day the parents drop off their child. What can be a difficult time for most parents is met with solace from a comforting housing mother.
“I say ‘Well, don’t feel bad because when you drop them off, you’re standing here crying,’” Joehnck said. “Now when you come pick them up, I’m the one standing there crying and you’re the one smiling.”
The Joehncks have grown so close with parents throughout the years, one family even invited them to come to Sweden someday to visit them. The couple has not been to Sweden yet, but Joehnck says the trip is on her bucket list.
“We enjoy [being a host family]. We like meeting the boys. You make memories. Money can’t buy the memories that you get with these boys. You meet nice parents. That’s things that you would never get by not doing an experience like this.”
Opening one’s own home to a stranger can be a daunting task, but, at the end of a long season, the bonds created truly make a home away from connection that lasts a lifetime. The Joehncks housed a player four years ago who still finds a way to keep their relationship strong.
“He still wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day every year.”
Brandon and Stefanie Haack have housed Stampede players for eight years. In that time the two have witnessed two Clark Cups and six winning seasons, but no amount of on-ice success can compare to the special connections their children have formed with various players throughout the years.
The Haacks housed Ethan Phillips and Anthony Romano during the 2018-19 season. While their children bonded with the Stampede players over friendly games of knee hockey, they grew closer when the family’s oldest son, Mason, was diagnosed as a diabetic.
“A couple weeks before Christmas time, Ethan and Anthony were very concerned about Mason,” Stefanie Haack said. “They wanted to learn what they could do to help him if something came up.”
While Phillips and Romano cared about the wellbeing of the children, the two players also wanted to be a part of family milestones during their time in Sioux Falls. The players especially wanted to see Maryn, the Haack’s three-year-old daughter, learn to walk.
While the two ultimately missed her first steps at the time, the players made an impact in helping her learn.
The Haacks noticed a similar connection between Cole Sillinger and Maryn.
“[Maryn and Cole] would always say good morning and she always has to check where Cole is,” she recalled. “Cole said the other night, ‘Maryn, you make any bad day a good day.’”
For the Haacks, the little acts of kindness from their players mean so much.
“Nikolas Koberstein left us a note at Christmas time and it just made my heart fill with love,” Haack recalled. “Just a note of gratitude, of how appreciative of everything that we’ve done for him.”
Whether big or small, the family and the players support each other through all the ups and downs.
“It doesn’t have to be something big. It’s just knowing that you’re there. Even just a simple hug after a bad game, it’s just that simple gesture.”
These experiences together create a unique family bond.
“You’re family forever. That’s the biggest thing for us. The bond that you create with the player, they’re like one of your kids,” Brandon Haack added. “It’s almost like bringing a new baby into the house.”
The Haacks say the two mostly keep up to date with past players by texting and calling. They have watched the collegiate success of their players, and celebrated milestones off the ice.
The makeshift parents congratulated their first player, Griffen Molino, when he got married and had his first child. Like the Joehncks, the Haacks also build a powerful friendship with their players’ biological families.
“It’s kind of nice to have that connection with their parents as well because you do become one big family and they’re very grateful that we do this and take in their kids and provide for them and make sure they’re fed, taken care of and have everything they need to be successful,” Stefanie Haack said. “A healthy environment makes for a healthy player on and off the ice.”
The Haacks house players for the experience and the love of the game. Watching the players grow from the United States Hockey League to collegiate hockey to the National Hockey League is great, but the unique relationship developed with the players and their families is unlike anything else.
“You do it for the bond of creating that life-long relationship, friendship, creating an extended family,” Brandon Haack said. “It’s a neat experience for everyone involved.”
The Stampede are blessed to have such great host families. The organization could not run without the help of our housing families who open their houses from September until the end of the season every year. The entire organization would like to thank every family for their support every season.
If you are interested in becoming a host family, please contact the Stampede office at 605-275-4625.