Right at home

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

It wasn't long before Marc Methot was walking around the house in his boxer shorts.

"I adapted really quickly," Methot says of living with Joyce and John McInerney.

The McInerneys billet London Knights players. Their son Eoin played goal for the team in the mid-1990s.

Methot, a 19-year-old defenceman, has been with the McInerneys for three years. It's his home away from home.

"You reach a certain comfort level with them, and right now I'm very comfortable," he says of the relationship. "They're just like my parents. Things are pretty easygoing."

All the players are billeted with local families, who certainly aren't doing it to get rich. Such a family has two options -- $75 a week plus two tickets for each home game or $65 a week and four tickets. That's pretty much the going rate in the OHL.

"It's not a money-making thing; it's a lifestyle thing and they get to be a part of this family," says Knights assistant general manager Jim McKellar, who handles all the billeting requirements.

The Knights are never in want of billeting families. The turnover is usually two a year and there currently is a waiting list of five.

Players are billeted in homes that are within a 10-minute drive of the John Labatt Centre and their school, if they are in school.

The McInerneys have billeted players for 12 years.

"We do it out of a sense of duty to the team and a way of supporting the team," says John McInerney.

"We've had neighbours do it because it's the 'in' thing or a status thing, but we see it as a sense of commitment to the team."

John has even learned how to cook, out of necessity, when Joyce is away. "That's a work in progress," he says of his expertise in the kitchen, but Methot isn't complaining.

Joyce says the $75 she gets each week from the team hardly puts a dent in the grocery bill.

"That just takes care of the milk, juice and yogurt Marc enjoys," she says. "He also loves steak, chicken, pasta, salad, waffles, soup. . . . They sure can tuck a lot of food away.

"But you do it for the love of the sport, the players and the team."

It's not unusual for extra players to come for dinner.

"There's always extra in the pot," Joyce says. "We just appreciate the goodness of the other family when Eoin billeted while playing in Sarnia (after playing with the Knights)."

Centre Dan Fritsche came to the Knights from the Sarnia Sting on Jan. 10.

"I remember the first day I came here, my billet mom and dad sat down with me for an hour and asked me what I like and what I dislike," Fritsche recalls.

"It just takes some time. You get traded, and it's weird and awkward for the first two weeks, but you're able to get comfortable and make new friends."

Fritsche is from Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

"It was tough when I first moved away (when he was 16). It was my first time doing it," he says.

"As a kid, when you move away, you never think you'd get homesick or miss your parents as much as you do, but it's hard to be away from them . . . it takes a long time to adjust."

Right-winger Corey Perry couldn't have a better situation. He lives with his father's cousin, Bob Martin, and his wife Lynda. Martin is a police detective with the OPP criminal support unit.

Perry has taken such a liking to the city in the four years he has been with the Knights that the Peterborough native lives here year-round.

"It's nice to stay here because I don't have to go back home and switch classes."

Defenceman Dan Girardi has been with three teams. He started his OHL career with the Barrie Colts, was traded to the Guelph Storm, then to the Knights on Jan. 5.

Changing billets is old hat.

"In Barrie, I lived with a family that had two teenage girls. They were naggy a little bit," he says.

"In Guelph, I was with a nice family with an eight-year-old boy. I'm an only child, so it worked out OK to have a little brother to play with."

Here in the city, Girardi lives with Pat and Brenda Mullin. Pat Mullin is Bob Martin's partner in the OPP.

The Mullins have two teenage boys 13 and 15 "and we have little competitions all the time," Girardi says. He has been with the Mullins for three months and isn't walking around in his boxers.

"I'm not that comfortable -- not yet. It's still my pyjama bottoms."

The players become a part of their new community.

"I call London a second home," Perry says. "You always see the fans when you're out. They're congratulating you and asking for autographs. It's great to see the little kids and the smiles on their faces. It gives you satisfaction knowing you made their day."

Centre Drew Larman is from Canton, Mich., but is half-Canadian. His father is from Welland. He says that although there are cultural differences, he was prepared for living in Canada for hockey.

"Being in Canada wasn't anything new to me. We lived in Buffalo for 11 years, so my dad's family was right across the border.

"But what I really like is, Canada is bigger on hockey and the communities are more into their OHL teams.

"London is unreal. You never stop signing autographs.

"It's pretty cool."


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