Striker Cameron Morris can lead the Anchorage Wolverines in assists, but ticket coordinator Autumn Makar is the next level when it comes to putting players up.
How next level? Try NHL Caliber – The National Hockey League selected her as the Initial Most Valuable Hockey Mom in 2019 for the work she did for youth hockey programs in Anchorage.
In these days when Makar is not working, she is tasked with keeping track of all the players who come to Anchorage to play on its junior team in the North American Hockey League and the families they live with. It is reasonable to wonder how she does it. If you ask her, she will say to you with a hint of amusement: “I have a big spreadsheet.”
As is usual in junior hockey, the first-year franchise uses billeting to house players. The system is similar to a currency program. A host family provides a place to live for a young person who is willing to leave home and retire in pursuit of personal growth.
Finding the right fit for each player and their ticket family is complicated and does not require a small amount of due diligence on Makar’s part. Creating successful connections is crucial for the system to create positive results for everyone involved – player, family, team and society.
Makar, who grew up in Anchorage, has the background, personality and organizational skills to place the Wolverines players in the right place to make progress – on and off the ice.
Says Caroline Kirby, who along with her husband, Matt and four children, houses two players: “She’s amazing.”
Players and families must both complete questionnaires to start the process, and the forms are not just formalities.
In addition to establishing identity, players are asked, among a host of other things, about dietary restrictions, allergies, comfort with younger children, what, if any, second language they spoke at home, medical conditions, religious affiliations, and downtime interests.
Wolverines are just as vigilant in investigating families. The potential hosts must first undergo a background check. And then come the questions. Who lives there? How old are they? Any pets, and if so, what kind? Does anyone smoke? If yes, where? Religious affiliation, dietary restrictions among family members, medical problems, and household dynamics are all examined.
Put all the questionnaires from both piles together and you will understand why the coordinator uses a spreadsheet. The final exam for each potential ticket family is a home inspection by Makar.
Establishing compatibility sometimes goes beyond the standard issues or concerns of the applications.
When Kirbys considered the possibility of hosting, such a question was raised. Their children did not want anyone living in their house to swear.
“We do not use swear words in our house … my children go to primary school, so it’s clear they’re exposed to it,” Kirby said. “But it’s very personal to have someone in your home. They were just pretty passionate about someone not using bad language in our house … It seemed a little crazy to suggest it to Autumn, but she did it. “
Hunter Bischoff from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and Bo Panasenko from Ukraine have lived with Kirby’s without incident.
Kirby said, “Hunter is incredible. He has not used a bad word all along.”
As for Panasenko: “If he swears in Russian, we would not even know it,” she said.
[Watching from Anchorage as a war unfolds, a young Ukrainian hockey player hopes to reconnect with family]
While players have to try their hand at Wolverines, potential host families have to make do with Makar. As a mother of hockey players and a longtime leader of youth teams, she knows well what an impact it can have on a teenage athlete to leave home.
“Hockey is a strange sport,” she said. “So many kids have to leave Alaska early. You always pray that others will take care of your child as their own. So that’s what I’m trying to do and help take care of the Wolverine kids who are here and away from their families. ”
Sometimes the close community of hockey facilitates this transition.
For Talon Sigurdson, his Minnesota Anchorage coach knew ticket parents Glen and Dawn Baileys through hockey circles. Their shared faith-based values made the transition a smooth transition for the team’s leading goal scorer.
Similarly, Colton Friesen of Winnipeg, Manitoba joined the Schmitz household because he had played with the son of Jen and John Schmitz on a team in Maine. When Hunter Schmitz decided to play for Wolverines this season, he asked if his friend and former teammate could stay with them. Again, it was an easy fight.
The vast majority of Anchorage players who are accommodated, however, commit without firm established ties to the community. They come to Alaska hoping to build those ties.
Jen Schmitz can vouch for the friendships that come from accommodation.
“Hunter, when he travels, he makes sure to stop in St. Louis to see his ticket family, and they are like another family to him,” she said. “We were just down there living with them, and Colton’s family is here right now, his mom, dad and aunt, and they live with us, and we’re going around Alaska and showing them around.”
“It’s just really cool the way it works and you end up having close families all over it.”