As a hockey fan, you are familiar with the originally hockey centric tradition of billet families. In one form or another, it is a financial arrangement for young players to have a “home away from home” when they relocate to pursue their sport. But the Connecticut Whale have had the good fortune to have some of their more far-flung players benefit from being able to stay in a family environment as well. Bit not through any program or financial consideration, just through the generosity and support of one amazing family: the Devillers. Cetacean Nation had heard about this through several of the players. And we recently were able to chat with Marine Devillers, who along with her husband Jerome and their own little “hockey squad” of five children (ages 3 (girl) 8 (boy) ,10 (twin girls), and 15 (boy).open their home to the Pod. Here is some of their story.
Marine began by saying “We call ourselves the second home, we are not a family billet per se. We don’t get paid, and we don’t get anything, besides having the pleasure of having them in our home. We don’t get money from the league or anyone. We happened to always have a connection to either the Coach or GM. Last year, it was the Coach Ryan’s wife, Laura (Equale) who called me and said we have a Swedish player who’s coming, and we don’t have a home for her. And she asked would we mind hosting her. So at the beginning it was temporary. We are French, my husband and I. All of our children were born here, but we are both French. So we know what it’s like to arrive from another country, So I guess we’re more sensitive to it. So, we said of course we’ll host her and so that’s how Michelle (#67 Michelle Lowenhielm) arrived. And at the beginning, Katka (#92 Katerina Mrazova) didn’t have a house so we had Katka a few days too. And Meeri ( #19 Meeri Raisanen) came for a few meals here and there with Michelle.So I remember one night we had the three of them for dinner, which was a very International meal.it was very nice.it was great for the kids to have people over from Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland, it’s nice. They share their experiences, and I don’t know, it helps you being open minded.”
Marine continued “We tried to go back to France every other year. We used to go back twice, then once, then every other year. It’s harder with the number of kids increasing;); So it is nice to have the international sharing, and try as much as we can to help. We know the NWHL is not making a lot of money, we know they (the players) are not making a lot of money. So we are happy to help. So, when Laura called we said yes, and it ended up not being two months, but the whole season:) Which was fine, Michelle was very nice. My husband made a bedroom to accommodate them, and I have a kitchen downstairs because I bake. And they have a bathroom downstairs too, so they have their privacy, they have their own space. So it has worked out pretty well. Michelle would take the girls in the morning to skate, because we were helping her with a Chelsea Piers membership so she could go to the gym, and in exchange she was taking the girls to skate once a week before school.”
So we asked if M-Lo was the first player who had stayed with them, and Marine replied: “Yes, but we had been involved in the league before.it started! That’s because the girls were coached by Sam (#28 Sam Faber) and Bray (GM Bray Ketchum). They taught them how to skate, so that’s how we got to know them. And backwhen they had their try-outs at Chelsea Piers, in May before the first year of the league, my girls asked me, on a Saturday night, to take them and go cheer for their coach. And Victoire, their is a picture of her behind the glass at Chelsea Piers. just watching and cheering for Sam and Bray. So that’s how long we’ve been with the NWHL. Before it started we were already big fans, since we knew Sam and Bray, that’s how we got into it. Bray and Sam are good friends. In fact Bray, is my number four Antoine’s, godmother.”
Cetacean Nation also wondered if all Marine's children played hockey, and she replied: “Yes, and now the three year old has started, and she loves it! She plays outside with them, or knee hockey downstairs. Between the hocket in the driveway and the hockey downstairs, she was not ready for the ice. But then one day she said I’m ready for my hockey! So she took the skates that we passed down from one to another. And she knew exactly where she had to go, because that’s where she goes to sharpen her big siblings' skates. So she got started and she loved it.”
As to whether she or her husband played, she laughed and said “No, my husband liked watching it and played roller hockey a little bit, But we liked ice hockey and our oldest son who now 15 tried it and he got into into it. That’s how it started, and then he grabbed all his siblings along the way. So now they are all playing, In France, hickey is not that popular. But it is getting bigger and there are now two, or three French players in the NHL It is getting momentum but it is nowhere near, in France, a sport like soccer. And tennis is pretty big in some areas. But in France every single kid plays soccer. So that’s how it started, one tried it and then everyone followed!”
And the Devillers continued their hosting with the Whale this season as well. Marine explained “So we had Michelle last year, and then Bray became the GM for the Whale this year and she asked us if we would host somebody else. So we said of course, of course we would help Bray out. So then Kendra (#12 Kendra Broad) arrived, but she stayed only a few weeks. She found another apartment, but then was supposed to come back to us. and we said of course, but then she ended up going abroad (finishing the season in Kazakhstan) So Kendra we only had three weeks, and the same, she is a very nice person, we had a great time. So then towards the end of the season, Bray asked us if we would mind hosting another player they had coming in from Nashville, and we said of course not! That was Allie (#25 Allie LaCombe), and she was fun, we had a great time. She’s very lively, and she’s a coach herself, so you can see she is around kids all the time. We were even aware at some point when she came back and she stayed a few days when our oldest was hom, she took him under her wing like a little brother. She’s the sweetest, and she’s fun and dynamic. And she’s a terrific player"
(Allie was just back in touch with her most family recently, as you can see here: https://twitter.com/allielac/status/1241443832954335235?s=21.}
Marine added: "We also know Jordan (our #26 Assistant Captain Jordan Brickner) because she’s been coaching around here for awhile, giving skating lessons and everything, so we’ve gotten to know her. We talk to her outside of hockey too, and we know her husband, he coaches also. All the players are so nice And when Michelle was here she had people coming over sometimes so we had Sarah and several others over here with the players we’ve been hosting.”
Marine also revealed “Victoire has always been my diehard Connecticut Whale fan and Margot and Antoine were Riveters fans first because they were cheering on Bray, they followed Bray. But Victoire started with Sam, so she’s the Whale fan. So the minute Bray switched to the Whale, it reunited the family. It was very hard on Etoile because we went from Connecticut to see the Riveters, to watch Bray play. We have traveled to New Jersey a few times, and that was very tough for Victoire. I mean she was happy for Bray of course, but it was very hard for her when the Riveters played against the Whale. So even the youngest one loves cheering on the Whale! She loves Michelle, Kendra and Allie, and they are so nice. They play knee hockey with them, all of them who’ve come. That’s usually the first thing they ask them: Can you play knee hockey with us? And they’ve always been so nice about it, playing with them and everything..The girls really look up to them.”
We continued to chat and touched upon the impact the players have on the Little Future Draft Picks, and Marine offered her own observations.
“The kids have gone to many games and they still ask to stay for autographs. I don’t know how many of those posters we’ve brought back home, but they still ask for it! For them at that age it’s huge for them. I commend the players for doing that. I feel that even the Whale who have lost games, it’s not fun to sigh when you’ve lost and everything, And they still are there with a big smile, they take pictures, they still are great sports. I commend them a lot for that. It is not easy after losing a game. A lot of kudos to them for doing tha. Anyone who’s played sports, knows that sfter losing a game, they want to be left alone, but they always stay and smile for the little kids that are there. As a Mom, when you see the smile on your kids face when they line up and come back with a picture or autographed hat or sweater it’s great. Downstairs we have Bray and Sam’s signed jerseys hanging up, and they love it, it means a lot to them. So we have three autographed jerseys, Ovechkin (Alex Overchkon of the Washington Capitals, NHL), Bray and Sam! And for them they are all equally important. They say they want to,play in the NWHL when they grow up. They have been honorary captain, and they look up to them. II nice, it’s nice, it gives them a goal.”
Before we finished our conversation, Marine gave another shout out to Sam Faber on her coaching success at LIU this season, saying “It was an amazing year for Sam, I am so happy for her. She used to be a coach at Chelsea Piers and she did an amazing job with the kids program. There are a lot of girls playing hockey now at Chelsea, hockey is very popular, She knew everyone, and we know her and that she is was amazing coach, and then she went to the Whale. And she was looking for a coaching job and it took time to find it but she found the right one, at home. And in her first season, it’s just the best story.that could have happened to her!” We could not agree more, Fins Up Forever Sam!
Cetacean Nation thanks Marine for sharing her story with us. And for the gracious gesture of opening their home to the Whale and these players. And in closing we’d like to share the sentiments Michelle Lowenhielm expressed to us about this special family. :“I moved to Connecticut after living in Minnesota for four years and ended up in a house with five kids and their parents. It turned out that this was a great fit for me and I’m very lucky to have gotten to know them. Marine and Jerome are so nice and have helped me out a lot. Their kids love hockey, are very well behaved, and we have a lot of fun together. So a special thank you to them and for welcoming me into their family.” Fins up to that, and to the “Whale’s Second Home”!