The junior hockey season is around the corner and both the Maine Nordiques and Twin City Thunder organizations, like many other junior teams across North America, are still looking for billet families for the upcoming year.

With both organizations adding Tier II programs this season in addition to the Tier III teams that were already in place, and the Thunder starting a full-season midget team — the Twin City Lightning — there will be five teams with roughly 100 hockey players that will be calling Lewiston-Auburn home this winter.

“When you get into junior hockey, there’s always two things you are recruiting, right?” Cam Robichaud, the Maine Nordiques director of player recruitment and advancement, said. “You have your players and billets and your housing. The two

work hand and hand. We have more players that we are bringing to Lewiston, with the addition of the (North American Hockey League) team, that means more billets are needed.”

Robichaud said not having a billet family may mean the Maine or L/A Nordiques lose a player they are trying to bring in for the upcoming season.

Across the Androscoggin River in Auburn, Doug Friedman, the head coach of the Twin City Thunder’s Tier II, National Collegiate Development Conference team, also said that having a player join the team may hinge on whether a billet family is lined up.

“It’s crucial, when you have 16- to 20-year-olds, especially on the younger side of that, the 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds, possibly leaving home for the first time, that family that’s going to take them in is critical,” Friedman said. “… Having that support piece and family there that’s going to look out for them and take them in and provide some stability is really important. If you don’t have (billet families), you risk losing some players.”

Both organizations have their core families that have billetted in the past seasons or billeted when the Lewiston Maineiacs were in town. The key is attracting new families to serve as billets. One obstacle is that most people don’t know what billeting a player entails.

“It’s a difficult task, it really is, to get new families, Robichaud said. “It’s really more about educating the families and them knowing exactly what entails being a billet family, and know what these players are trying to do and what players do with their time outside of hockey. Those are a lot of the questions we have, and what the role of the billet family is, specifically, what they have to provide the (player). Just getting that information out, we use social media, but a lot of it comes down to contacts and connections we have in the local area.”

Friedman said that once he explains to potential billet families the process and what needs to be done, people usually become more open to the idea of hosting a player for the season.

Friedman, who also coached the Portland Jr. Pirates in 2013-14, said finding billets is a challenge for any team, it’s not just isolated to the Thunder or the Nordiques. His family has even hosted players in the past.

Both organizations look at families who have kids in the local youth hockey programs, with the idea that adding a “big brother” who is playing a high level of hockey could be beneficial to a family.

Friedman said the players that he has billeted usually come back each summer to visit.

“I saw it first-hand with my kids (Jaxon and Grady), and again, without a doubt, I can’t say it enough, the positive impact these guys can have in a household, especially with young kids,” Friedman said. “When you think about all the youth programs in the area, from Casco Bay up to the Maine Moose, the Gladiators, the Nordiques and everybody in there, that’s a lot of youth players that can be impacted in a significant way.”

The Thunder are primarily looking for billet families within a 30-minute radius of Norway Savings Bank Arena, but will consider interested families who live outside that radius.

Friedman said that some of the older Thunder players may live on their own at apartments, and that will lessen the burden of finding families.

“For me, it’s a family decision. If there’s an younger player and the family is OK with it, that might be a special circumstance to OK that,” Friedman said. “But, generally it will be a 19- or 20-year-old who may be away from home and is used to that piece, maybe they live on their own already and obviously have some knowledge to cook and hopefully clean, as well.”

Billet families receive $400 for compensation from the players, and both the Thunder and Nordiques organizations provide ticket packages to the families.

Those interested in hosting a Thunder player should contact billeting coordinator Dawn Rancourt at [email protected] To reach the Nordiques organization, contact Cam Robichaud directly at [email protected]