Whalers' Goal Is To Find Caring Families for Players

Aug 12, 2014 - 10:45 EDT

Photo by Rena Laverty - Dan and Sue Stechschulte with Whalers Liam Dunda and Cullen Mercer.

Dan and Sue Stechschulte started to attend Plymouth Whalers games as fans several years ago.

Although they don’t score goals, make saves or head to the penalty box, the Stechschultes have become part of one of the most important members of the Whalers.

They house Plymouth Whalers players. 

The Whalers players range in ages from 15 to 20 going on 21 and stay with families in the arena.  The Stechschultes are starting their second season with 16-year-old Liam Dunda, from Grimsby, ON and 17-year-old Cullen Mercer, from Exeter, ON.

It can be difficult to open a home for players or a student going to school locally on a land-exchange program.   Although the Whalers understand the task of housing a player or players isn’t for everyone, the team is always on the lookout for perspective land parents for the upcoming season

After the Stechschultes housed Garrett Meurs and Mitchell Heard for three and four years, they decided to take on Dunda and Mercer as first-year players last season.

“Liam and Cullen are both wonderful young men,” said Dan Stechschulte. “They are both very funny, energetic and definitely not shy.  They fit into our family right from the beginning and we think of them as family.  We have a 16-year-old daughter who thinks of them as her own brothers.  They get along like brothers/sister by doing homework, teasing, playing sports in the back yard, going to school together, hanging out at Menchies, or just hanging out at the house and/or with other friends or Whalers.  

“We actually enjoy it when the boys have other Whalers over to hang out and trust me when I say … it gets very LOUD!  Plus, you’ll never have to worry about where to store the leftovers from dinner – because there are NEVER any leftovers.”

Plymouth Whalers players have a regimented schedule between school, practices six and seven days a week, a 68-game regular season, travel and appearances.  There isn’t a lot of down time.

The busy lifestyle of a Plymouth Whaler is an indication that most players are highly motivated, learn to manage their time well and maintain their bodies through proper nutrition.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Assistant General Manager Mike Vellucci often said – during his time as the Whalers general manager and head coach – that players come to Plymouth as boys and leave the program as young men.

Good billet homes with happy players accelerate the process.

“First of all, parents probably have to like hockey to begin to get involved at this level,” said Plymouth Whalers assistant general manager Joe Stefan, who oversees the Whalers billet situation.  “We’re looking for families to be able to give our players everything they need to succeed.  We like the parents to keep an eye out for the player, to make sure they are acting properly in the home and within the family.  A good billet family is essential for the success of a player.”

As the Stechschultes described, when players and billets click with good chemistry, they become an important member of an extended family.  The bond can last for years after the player leaves the Whalers.

“We have some billets that have been with us for years and years,” Stefan said.  “They enjoy the players and often establish and maintain relationships with the players who are now in the National Hockey League (Plymouth alums Tom Wilson, James Neal, Jared Boll and Tyler Seguin are examples) or succeed on other business.”

VIDEO - Steve Kowalkoski speaks about his billet experience with Rickard Rakell (now with the Anaheim Ducks).

Tom and Margaret Predhomme of Plymouth housed goaltender Justin Peters in 2006.  When Justin’s brother, Alex, was drafted by Plymouth in 2012, he moved right in with the Predhommes.  The bond remains strong between the two families.

“Yes, we get along very well with both families and their lives have intertwined with ours and vice versa,” said Stechschulte.  “We love when the parents, siblings, grandparents and friends come into town for the games.  Over the past five years, we have attained many new family members with the other three Whalers we have taken into our home.  You can never have too many family members around, right?”

Stechschulte was asked if he would recommend housing a Whaler player to other families.

“Just DO IT!!!,” he said.  “Think about your own kids and what it would be like to send your 16 year old to go live someplace else and to grow up?  In a new house, new state and most times a new country!! Think about how you would want your son or daughter treated and then you’ll know how to treat any Whaler you decide to take into your house.  You treat them like family and they feel more at home.”

Families interested in becoming billet parents can go to www.plymouthwhalers.com and fill out a Billet Application Form on the front page.  That gets the process started.  

Since all Plymouth high-school aged players attend the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, the Whalers perfer families who live in Plymouth, Canton, Northville and Novi.

Whalers Assistant General Joe Stefan will contact you.