Sicamous Eagles players sit down to breakfast in the “Eagles’ Nest” dormitory behind the Sicamous and District Rec Centre. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)

Sicamous Eagles players sit down to breakfast in the “Eagles’ Nest” dormitory behind the Sicamous and District Rec Centre. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)

Sicamous Eagles move into dormitory on arena grounds

The KIJHL hockey team’s billet system was strained by COVID-19 so they are piloting a new solution

A shared living space is helping this year’s Sicamous Eagles squad stay COVID-19 free and come together as a team ahead of the coming season.

The team moved into the prefabricated structure dubbed, “The Eagles’ Nest,” last weekend and players are already settling in to what will be their home for the season.

Rookies Donovan Edwards and Rhett Walker, both from Alberta, reflected on the new space as they dined on a late breakfast of coffee and cereal in the dormitory’s well-stocked kitchen.

“I love it. It’s a totally different experience getting to hang out with the boys and just have a good time getting to know everyone really fast,” Edwards said.

In other circumstances, Edwards said it might take weeks to get to know his teammates if they were heading off to different billet homes only to meet back up on the ice and in the dressing room. Living in close quarters, he thinks the bonding is well on its way from week one.

Walker also said it was good to be no more than two doors down a hallway from most of his teammates.

“We’re always around each other so I think that’s going to help on the ice,” he added.

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Wayne March, the Eagles’ general manager, said it was clear soon after the last KIJHL season was halted by COVID-19 that a new approach would be needed to housing the team. According to March, the Eagles found themselves in the same predicament as other clubs in the league, facing a shortage of local families willing to billet a player amid the pandemic.

March said, as far as he knows, the Eagles are the only team in the league currently experimenting with communal accommodations; he considers it a pilot project for other teams to consider.

He said the dormitory was constructed by Sicamous-based TA Structures beginning in August with the District of Sicamous picking up the bill and charging the team rent on the structure. The rent is covered by fees paid by the players who would usually fund a stipend given to billet families.

March believes the shared accommodation carries numerous benefits for the team outside of serving as a safeguard against the virus.

“The bonding aspect of it is huge,” March said.

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Two coaches or other team staff sleep at the Eagles’ Nest each night in separate rooms at the end of each of its hallways. March said they will help ensure the team is well-rested and focused on hockey. March said locals who had billeted players in the past have been helping out with cooking for the team.

Beyond cooking for the team, the volunteers have been taking on groups of four players each and fulfilling the traditional “billet mom” roles of communicating with players’ families back home and offering a safeguard against homesickness.

“If they don’t want to talk to me or a coach, they have a billet mom to talk to,” March said.

The 2020/21 Eagles will get their first chance to see if all the team bonding will pay off in an exhibition game on the road in Revelstoke on Oct. 31. Regular season play for them will begin on Friday, Nov. 13 against the Rockets in Golden.

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