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Romanoskis pumped about being willing to 'billet'

They weren't exactly sure what a "billet" even is, but they were happy to become one.

Todd and Mary Jo Romanoski and family hosted and housed an early-college-age player from the newly formed Hudson Crusaders during the just-ended hockey season, in a practice that is called billeting. Two or three other families did the same thing, and there even was a "billeting coordinator" in Debbie Johnson of Hudson.

Billet, everyone soon found, is a term that originated from Canada, where there is a lot of hockey played. That nation might even generate some opponents for the Crusaders, such as Jake Pumper, 19, who stayed with the Romanoskis starting last fall.

The families volunteer for housing the players, who pay for the privilege to play on such Junior A teams and hone their skills. There was a waiting list this year in Hudson of families willing to billet.

The Romanoskis offered all the amenities of a home away from home for the young adult from Northfield, Minn. They would go out to eat on the rare free nights and give Pumper the necessary equipment to play video games with their son A.J. Pumper's room was on the opposite side of the South Cove Road house from his billeting parents, with the living and dining rooms in the middle, so there was plenty of privacy and an ability for the skater to come and go now that he's an adult.

There also is a good-size hockey rink that had been built in a flat area up in the bluffs, about a 100-yard walk from the house. (The family had discussed putting it in the front yard, where it could be complete with boards and have ice in longer, but they decided to go the other direction). The homemade rink gave A.J. and his new hockey mate a place to skate together.

Pumper's Christmas present from the family also fit the theme -- a hockey stick, wrapped up and topped with a ribbon where the right hand of a shooter goes.

Pumper hopes to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth next year or the year after, and play hockey there. He'd love to go Division III, "but it is getting harder and harder," said the defenseman who this season was shifted to forward for the Crusaders, in a move Pumper said was a good thing.

It also was a good thing to bunk with the Romanoskis. "At first it was a little different," Pumper said. "Now it's more like, 'Hi, I'm here,' then, 'Hi, I'm going again.'"

He got comfortable quickly. "When friends come here, we just go get stuff from the fridge," Pumper said.

Other than this season, Pumper had lived a 50-minute trip from the Gornick Arena and he returned home on many weekends -- especially if playing a game up there. Pumper also went home for the Christmas holiday break and has a girlfriend back in Minnesota. For his 19th birthday, she took him to see the Minnesota Wild play at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

But it isn't all fun and games. Pumper practiced with the Crusaders three days a week, then typically had three hockey contests each weekend.

"He's easy to get along with, friendly and neat," Mary Jo Romanoski said. "He gives us someone to go watch. He also let us prepare now for when A.J. plays at higher levels."