Matching junior hockey players with local host families is no easy task. But this woman from Anchorage has the formula.


Apr.8 – Forward Cameron Morris could lead the Anchorage Wolverines in assists, but ticketing coordinator Autumn Makar is next level when it comes to setting up players.

How next level? Try NHL caliber – the National Hockey League chose her as the 2019 Most Valuable First Hockey Mom for the work she did for youth hockey programs in Anchorage.

These days, when Makar isn’t working, she’s responsible for tracking every player who comes to Anchorage to play for her North American Hockey League junior team and the families they live with. It’s fair to wonder how she does it. If you ask her, she’ll tell you flatly with a hint of amusement, “I have a big spreadsheet.

As is customary in junior hockey, the freshman franchise uses housing to house players. The system is similar to a foreign exchange program. A foster family provides a place to live for a young person who is ready to leave home and be institutionalized in pursuit of personal growth.

Finding the right fit for each player and their ticket family is complicated and requires a great deal of due diligence on Makar’s part. Building successful connections is essential for the system to create positive outcomes for everyone involved – player, family, team and community.

Makar, who grew up in Anchorage, has the background, personality and organizational skills to put Wolverines players in the right place to progress – on and off the ice.

Said Caroline Kirby, who, with her husband, Matt, and four children, is hosting two players: “She’s amazing.”

Players and families both need to fill out questionnaires to start the process, and the forms aren’t just paperwork.

Beyond establishing identity, players are asked, among a long list of other things, about dietary restrictions, allergies, comfort with young children, second languages ​​they spoke, where applicable, home, medical conditions, religious affiliations and downtime. interests.

The Wolverines are just as vigilant in controlling families. Prospective hosts are required, to begin with, to undergo a background check. And then come the questions. Who lives here? How old are they? Are there pets, and if so, what kind? Does anyone smoke? If yes, where? Religious affiliation, dietary restrictions of family members, medical issues, and household dynamics are all studied.

Collect all the questionnaires from both piles and you will understand why the coordinator uses a spreadsheet. The final review for each potential ticketing family is a home inspection by Makar.

Establishing compatibility sometimes goes beyond standard application questions or concerns.

When the Kirbys considered the feasibility of accommodation, such a question arose. Their children didn’t want anyone staying with them and swearing.

“We don’t use any profanity in our house…my kids go to public school, so they’re obviously exposed to it,” Kirby said. “But having someone in your house is very personal. They were just passionate enough that someone wouldn’t use swear words in our house… It seemed a bit crazy to suggest this to Autumn, but she pulled it off.”

Hunter Bischoff of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and Bo Panasenko of Ukraine lived with the Kirbys without incident.

Kirby said, “Hunter is amazing. He didn’t use a single swear word the whole time.”

As for Panasenko, “If he swore in Russian, we wouldn’t even know,” she cracked.

[Watching from Anchorage as a war unfolds, a young Ukrainian hockey player hopes to reconnect with family]

While players have to try out for the Wolverines, potential foster families have to make the cut with Makar. As a mother of hockey players and long-time manager of youth teams, she knows well the impact leaving home can have on a teenage athlete.

“Hockey is a weird sport,” she said. “So many kids have to leave Alaska early. You always pray that others will take care of your child like their own. So that’s what I’m trying to help provide for the Wolverine kids here and far. of their family.”

Sometimes the tight-knit community of high-performance hockey makes that transition easier.

For Talon Sigurdson, his Minnesota coach knew Anchorage parents Glen and Dawn Baileys through hockey circles. Their shared religious values ​​eased the transition for the team’s top scorer.

Similarly, Colton Friesen of Winnipeg, Manitoba joined the Schmitz house because he had played with the son of Jen and John Schmitz on a Maine team. When Hunter Schmitz decided to play for Wolverines this season, he asked if his friend and former teammate could stay with them. Again, it was an easy game.

The vast majority of Anchorage players being boxed in, however, engage without firmly established ties to the community. They come to Alaska hoping to make those connections.

Jen Schmitz can vouch for the friendships that come from quartering.

“Hunter, when he travels he makes sure to stop in St. Louis to see his host family and they are like a second family to him,” she said. “We were just there and we stayed with them, and Colton’s family is here right now, his mom, dad and aunt, and they’re staying with us, and we’re doing all of Alaska and doing them to visit.”

“It’s really cool the way it’s going, and you end up having close families everywhere.”


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