Billets key piece of team's family

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Dave MacQueen is head coach of the Sarnia Sting.

He has been behind the benches of the Erie Otters and the Peterborough Petes, too.

Different OHL cities. Different situations. But The Question is always there. He sees it in the eyes of every parent with a promising, young skater.

Where am I sending my son?

"Most of the coaches are parents, too, and we'd ask the same thing," MacQueen said. "We want to make sure our child is in a safe, healthy environment. Parents are entrusting you with their son. They expect you to do the same thing they would."

Junior hockey has been taking a beating in the trust department lately. David Frost's lawyer said the sport isn't on trial during the former agent and coach's sexual exploitation case in Napanee.

But the court of public opinion is always in session. OHL clubs know any details that create doubt in parents automatically hurts recruiting.

MacQueen sees the defence as a three-step partnership between coach, billet and player.

When he was in Erie, he gave assistant Peter Sidorkiewicz a fun gift with an inscription.

"It said, 'Part-time coach, full-time psychologist,' but I think it conveys what we do," MacQueen said. "Kids come in the office to talk about anything but hockey. You see them more than they see their parents. You have the same chats you would with your own 17-year-old.

"Girls. Booze. School."

When the coaches go home, they turn over the reins to the billets. "These people aren't just taking in a hockey player, they're basically adding another son," MacQueen said, "and you rely on them. You have turnover from year to year and in a smaller community like Sarnia, you're always looking for more help. I know Wally (assistant coach Greg Walters) has to put an ad out for more landparents every year."

The teams want to make the players feel right at home. But if you don't believe hockey is now a rich kid's game, try buying a set of equipment.

"The kids have to be accountable, too," MacQueen said. "Every kid isn't the same and some don't want to live in a house with other players. But in Erie, we had to move one player three times in two weeks because he didn't feel the houses were up to his standards. The expectations are out of whack. There were some nice houses in Erie, too, better than I ever lived in."

It's a constant give and take.

But it only works when everyone gives a little bit more than they end up taking.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Kitchener and Saginaw played a rare penalty-free game in the Spirit's 3-2 overtime victory on Sunday. Brent Holdsworth, a former London Knight, and Scott Hoberg were the refs in a game that took just two hours, four minutes to complete . . . Clutch players usually find a way to score big goals but not normally in such a concentrated fashion. In the past week, Brampton captain Cody Hodgson has scored an overtime and shootout winner while Sault Ste. Marie's Jordan Nolan bagged two overtime winners. Hodgson is the son of former Ontario cabinet minister Chris Hodgson. Nolan is the son of ex-NHLer and coach Ted Nolan. The Battalion have won eight in a row, second to top-ranked Windsor's 11 . . . Think the OHL isn't a family-dominated affair? On Saturday alone, goal scorers included Mississauga's Mike Pelech, whose brother Matt is a Calgary first-rounder, Brampton's Thomas Stajan (cousin Matt is a Toronto Maple Leaf), Marcus Foligno (dad and coach Mike was a long-time NHLer), Belleville's Spencer Anderson (father John coaches the Atlanta Thrashers) and Sarnia's Michael Neal, whose brothers James is a former Plymouth Whaler and now Dallas Stars prospect . . . Former coach Scotty Bowman helped the Peterborough Petes honour his 1958-59 team, the first to win an OHL title, on Saturday. . . The OHL scoring lead is shared by a pair of second-year teammates -- Windsor forward Taylor Hall, who isn't yet 17, and defenceman Ryan Ellis.


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