Moving away from home is always a challenge, but it’s especially difficult when you are only a teenager.
The Bonnyville Pontiacs have nine members of the team who have come from out of the province to play hockey. There are a number of things you have to do to adjust to a new lifestyle.
“I guess the biggest difference would be weather,” said Brandon Whistle, who is from Kelowna, British Columbia. “It’s pretty much beach and golf weather all year round, then you come here and you’re wearing a winter coat.”
Kelowna is a 12-hour drive away from Bonnyville and also has a population of over 106,000.
“It’s a big difference to come from a pretty big place to a smaller town where there is one main road and everybody lives in town,” explained Whistle.
Whistles’ fellow teammate, Mitch Oliver, is also from Kelowna. He echoed those comments.
“Bonnyville is definitely a little smaller for sure. Especially for me, living in British Columbia, it’s a little colder here than there,” said Oliver. “It’s pretty flat, especially on road trips. Looking out the bus window and all you see is farms and stuff. You don’t see that in British Columbia.”
Oliver was acquired from the Vernon Vipers earlier in the season. Vernon was just one hour from Kelowna, which meant he would see his family often. Now being 11 hours farther away, he doesn’t have that luxury anymore.
“Obviously that’s a challenge. I don’t get to see my family as much as I did before. They’ve made a couple trips out here which is good.”
Carter Rhine is another one of the five members of the team from British Columbia. He said he faced some challenges when he first came to Bonnyville.
“At first when I moved out here I was definitely home sick for the first three months. Once you get to know the guys and your billets it’s a big part of getting rid of being home sick,” explained Rhine who is in his second year with the Pontiacs. “When I am getting homesick I just hang out with or talk to the guys or my billet.”
Gen Bryshun, who is also from Kelowna, said he has a bunch of people he leans on for support when he is feeling down.
“My billets are one of them. They really help bring me back to earth,” said Bryshun. “They’re really easy to talk to and they’re definitely one of them. My dad is one of them as well. He thinks things out pretty well and it’s easy to talk to him about stuff.”
Just down the road, Tyler Pogorenko is from Nelson, British Columbia, which has a population of around 15,000. He’s a 20-year-old player who has lived away from home since he was 16, but said he still relies on some people who help him get through being home sick.
“Mom and dad were always a call away,” explained Podgorenko. “That’s one of the main ones, but obviously friends and stuff. I just hang out with them and just focus on the present and the people around you.”
On top of those five players from BC, the Pontiacs have four other players from else where in North America.
Goaltender Sandro Silvestre is from Montreal, Quebec. He says the culture shock of moving from Montreal to Bonnyville is something he had to get used to.
“At the beginning it was definitely a big adjustment and a culture shock, but with the group of guys we have in the locker room and the billet family I am with made me really comfortable and made the transition go as smoothly as possible,” explained Silvestre.
He says when he is missing his family he feels lucky to always have someone he can go to talk to.
“All the guys in the room are very easy to talk to. If you’re ever having any problems you can talk to them,” explained Silvestre. “The billet family I am with is very supportive and very easy to talk to.”
Jake Gresh, is coming from Avon, Connecticut. The town of Avon has a population of around 18,000 and is a 38-hour drive from Bonnyville. He is the player who has traveled the longest distance form home.
“My billets have been great all year. They’re really supportive of my hockey and me. I can truly call them a second family and this is my second home here in Bonnyville. They’ve been great,” explained Gresh.
The Pontiacs management takes pride in being able to make the players who join the team feel comfortable in their new homes, not only for the player but also for the parents.
“They move a long ways from home and I think part of the recruiting strategy we need to have here is that we want a reputation of treating our players better than anywhere else,” explained head coach and general manager Rick Swan. “Those are things that parents want to hear. It’s not only about hockey here.”
They also feel that being with the team almost 28 days out of a month helps them get a feel for how the players are feeling.
“The expectations are high for them to be prepared, committed and that they play and have the right approach… that can be hard on a young kid because there is so much,” explained Swan. “We’ve got a good gauge and that’s from being around them everyday.”
Goaltender Robert Jacobson is one of the players who have gone through one of the biggest culture shocks while joining the Pontiacs. Jacobson is from Los Angeles, California and although he has traveled far to play the game he loves, he says he is still enjoying the experience.
“It’s probably plus 25 back home right now and minus 18 here so it’s definitely not easy to adjust to the extreme weather but I do enjoy this small town feel,” explained Jacobson.
Being so far away from his friends and family is one of the toughest things Jacobson has faced in his time with the team, but he said it makes them more special to him.
“You really start to appreciate your family more as you move away and you realize how much the sacrifice and everything they gave up for me to be here right now.”