Colleen Palumbo has been involved with the Golden Rockets since seeing her first game. Photo Submitted

Turning Back the Pages: Hockey players become a part of the family

In 2001, I was listening to the local radio and they were running a contest.

By correctly answering a question, you could win two tickets to the local Junior B Rockets hockey game.

I’m not sure whatever possessed me to call in, but I did, and I had the right answer as well.

Little did I know that my life would completely and permanently change by this simple call.

When I got home from work that day I explained to my husband what had happened and he said, “what are you going to do with the tickets?” I said, “I thought we might go watch the game.”

At this point I should say that I have watched many hockey games on TV but had never watched a live game.

We headed off to watch the game and my cousin Eugene Rande was in the time keepers booth and said to me, “nice to see you here and I hope you come again, and if you are ever looking for a volunteer opportunity, think of the Rockets because our volunteers numbers are down.”

I honestly didn’t think about it as I left the game that night, but I had a great time at the game, and a couple weeks later we decided to go to another game.

Soon I was invited to a meeting and three months later I was president of the club. I’m still not sure how that happened.

I know that I have never worked harder for an organization as a volunteer because they were very short of help and you couldn’t do just one job.

One of the toughest parts of the job of course is the fundraising.

At that time, the Rockets operated a wood lot where they cut, split, and delivered firewood.

But in the off season, when the boys were not around, members of the club did the work.

The men would go in on the weekend and cut and split and then others, including myself, would go on our lunch hours or after work and load and deliver firewood.

As if that wasn’t enough, when fall hit Marko Shehovac came to me and asked me if I could take a billet.

We talked it over at home and decided with three kids of our own it probably would be too much, but Shehovac is nothing if not persistent and he said “OK, but I’m in a real fix here, could you take one just temporarily until after the team is set and then we would move him out.”

We agreed to do that and soon the Rockets Car (an RCMP cruiser) pulled up and Marko got out with this giant sized young man and said “this is Jamie Lyle and he will be staying with you for a few days.”

Within a couple days we realized that this young man fit into our family really well and we decided to keep him.

And soon Billy Fritsen arrived, giving us two billets our first season.

I’m afraid that if I start naming them all I will forget someone, but over the course of the next 11 years we billeted some 40 players.

And in that time, we only had one player that we asked to have moved from our home because he just didn’t fit with the family.

Our family grew in ways that we hadn’t expected as these young men crept into our hearts.

Some of them really loved being part of a big extended family and some, though quieter, developed relationships with our children and they still drop each other texts.

We became part of this amazing large hockey family of volunteers at the rink, billets at home, families of the billets and the broader hockey community.

Our club was broke, and when we couldn’t afford to outfit our team, others in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League stepped up and gave us their retired equipment.

Our bus was old and spent as much time in the shop as it did on the road and we had to pack lunches for our players because we couldn’t afford team meals.

Things were never easy. In fact, sometimes they were very hard, but the rewards were incredible and I will always be grateful for my time with the Rockets organization and for the friendships that remain today as a result.

As for the players who played during my years as president, they will always be “my boys” and I would be devastated if anything happened to anyone of them.

So, my heart goes out to everyone in the Humboldt organization during this horrible time and to the families and friends of the players, staff, and volunteers who have been affected by this tragedy.

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