Billets score big with OHL players


You've heard of Jon and Kate Plus 8.

Well, the Barrie Colts have a version of John and Kate Plus 4 on the go this season.

And considering that Stefan Della Rovere, Alex Pietrangelo, Nick Crawford and Dalton Prout are hungry teenaged hockey players - not bratty kids - this plays out on a level perhaps more realistic than any fumbled reality TV show ever could for billet parents John and Kathleen MacDonell.

A dozen loads of laundry each week. Daily meals that could feed a small army, with leftovers to boot. A utility bill that might rival that of a power-generating station.

Welcome to the MacDonell home. When it comes to rest and relaxation around here - or simply keeping the fridge stocked for longer than a few hours - all bets are off.

Still, John and Kathleen don't look at it as an inconvenience whatsoever. They signed up for the job. And, they say, it's an obligation worth fulfilling.

"We don't billet or board," said John, a retired 73-year-old who boasts wit that's quicker than a Pietrangelo slapper from the point.

"We give them a home."

The MacDonells are certainly well-equipped for the task of helping to raise - albeit temporarily - a combined 803 pounds of athletic specimen.

After all, the Barrie residents have been in the billet business for 14 seasons, housing such Colts notables as captains Eric Reitz, Jeremy Swanson, Tomas Marcinko, and Andrew Marshall and Josh Brittain over the years.

Billeting has its challenges, to be sure. There have been a few curfews broken and confrontations had - typical stuff that any parent to ever raise a teenager will endure.

"Some handle it well, some don't handle it well," John said. "If they respect the house, it's no problem."

But, as a whole, the MacDonells wouldn't change a thing, and neither would their current Ontario Hockey League tenants.

"It gets better each year," said Della Rovere, a 19-year-old who has lived with the MacDonells since joining the team at 16.

"He used to sit beside us on the sofa. Now, he won't," joked Kathleen.

Della Rovere is the veteran, makeshift family member. Prout, 19, came along later, while Crawford, 19, and Pietrangelo, 20, are relatively new to the scene, having arrived at the doorstep earlier this season.

"I guess I was a little nervous," said Crawford, who was uprooted when the Saginaw Spirit traded him to Barrie. "But John and Kathleen make it very comfortable. It's made the transition pretty easy. It's been fun."

Fun seems to be the common theme around this house, with no shortage of entertainment at their disposal.

There's a ping-pong table in the basement.

"(John) tries to beat me, be he still can't," Della Rovere said.

And the board games come out once in a while.

"I've tried to play Scrabble with them, but they're still learning to spell," John quipped.

Of course, the entertainment isn't lacking in the basement, either, where the players spend the majority of their time away from the rink. They've got three video game consoles, a couple TVs, a few guitars and just about everything else that helps fill the downtime.

Former Colts goalie Michael Hutchinson, a Barrie native, was known to bring his band of fellow rockers down to the basement for regular jam sessions.

Come dinner time, however, being at the dining room table is a must.

"I make them sit down for supper with us every night," 67-year-old Kathleen said, "for family time."

With Kathleen's famous chicken parmesan, pasta and meatballs, and perogies being served up in large portions, there's no arm-twisting required on that front.

The life of a major junior hockey player is regimented, with practice, games, school and workouts all part of the daily grind.

So for the MacDonells, the hockey talk often takes a back seat in favour of discussions about life in general. Because the goal, as it's been all along for the Barrie residents, whose two sons moved out a few years ago, is a simple one.

"We really care for them like our own sons," Kathleen said. "When they walk into the house, they've had a long day, and they need to unwind. We try to make them feel comfortable."

Pietrangelo, a fourth-overall NHL draft pick who arrived in town recently to close out his junior career with the Colts, said he already feels at home.

"What's not to like?" he said, adding he enjoys his time at the MacDonells because it allows him to "get away from hockey and do normal stuff.

"It's a second home."

If that 'normal stuff' includes doing their part by cleaning up around the house, Della Rovere figures they've got a winning record.

"We clean up after ourselves," the Colts captain said, to which John replied: "What? Is someone else here?"

As for Prout, a LaSalle native, he was nowhere to be found on this particular night.

"He's out getting engaged," John quipped.

And as for the meatloaf that Kathleen whips up from time to time, don't ask.

"It's a bit of a running joke around here," Della Rovere said.

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