[Aliaksei Protas and billet family with the Ed Chynoweth Cup (WHL Championship) following the overtime, game 7 win at the Art Hauser Center in Prince Albert. Photos:Roger Pagé]
Most Capitals fans by now are well aware of the “Viper of Vitebsk”, Aliaksei Protas. The 6’6” center from Vitebsk, Belarus, was drafted by the Capitals in the third round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft after playing just one season with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
Protas is currently on loan to Dinamo Minsk of the KHL where he is doing quite well. He just tied the franchise record for most goals in a season by a 19-year-old, just 14 games into the KHL season. Not bad for a part time job.
But life in the KHL is only temporary. Protas will return to North America when the Capitals open training camp for the 2020-21 season, which is currently scheduled for early December. Following training camp, Protas will likely head back to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to rejoin the Raiders for a third season.
While working on his game in Prince Albert, Aliaksei, like many other junior hockey players across North America, will live with a local (billet) family. For those not familiar with the workings of a billet family, Roger Pagé, who is Protas’ billet dad in Prince Albert, provided some insight in a recent interview with NoVa Caps.
“As our team is made up of players that almost always call other cities/provinces and even countries home, these guys need a place to call home while they’re in our city playing hockey. Families that indicate interest to the team are then vetted, and if found to be a good fit, will be set up with a billet player. The team (in this case, the Raiders) gives a small honorarium to help offset some of the costs incurred.”
Aliaksei is the first billet player for the Pagé family, but they are going into their 3rd year as a billet family.
On game nights, it’s truly a billet family affair for the Pagé family. Roger is liaison to the opposing team. Roger’s wife, Kim, has been an employee with the club for 17 seasons and his eldest girl, Brooklyn, is part of the game night staff. They love Raiders hockey.
As for life within the billet family unit, it can be very similar to family life back home. This includes pitching in with work and chores around the house. Roger noted that Aliaksei is treated like one of his kids.
“In our case, Aliaksei has the run of our house as our other two kids do, he’s treated no differently. If asked to help with a task he almost always offers to help, be it loading the dishwasher or shovelling snow. AP (Aliaksei) is a very kind and thoughtful individual. He’s always eager to lend a hand, regardless of the task.”
Roger continued with an example of Protas’ willingness to help around the house.
“One week last winter, we’d had a large accumulation of snowfall. I knew he had a day off from the rink and, so before heading to work, I asked him if he could shovel the sidewalk in-front of the yard and immediately alongside the driveway. A few hours later, I received a text from our good neighbors across the street, Jana and Roger, with an image attached. Not only was our front sidewalk and walkway done, but the entire concrete driveway AND the gravel driveway beside the house! It must have taken him two hours to do that. He’s always trying to do his best, that’s AP!”
So how does a teenager from Vitebsk, Belarus, living in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, spend his time away from the rink? Roger said Aliaksei is much like any other 19-year-old in that respect.
“Aliaksei reads quite a bit and has a keen interest in biographical works penned by successful athletes. Living so far from Belarus, he also spends much of his free time talking to friends and family back home. He loves hanging out with his billet sisters, Brooklyn and Cailin, antagonizing them, for the most part, on a regular basis. :)“
Roger says that Aliaksei embraces the differences between life in Belarus and life in Prince Albert, a population of about 36,000.
“Our community is rather small in respect to Vitebsk and he likes the fact that you can get to where you need to go in under 10 minutes, be it shopping, eatery’s or to grab his favourite drink- a French Vanilla coffee. The community embraces our hockey team, and the guys (like Aliaksei) will repay that by always making time for photo opps and the like.”
Considering the fact that the Capitals have a strong contingency of Mario Cart aficionados, it’s a safe bet that Aliaksei will fit right in with the big club. Roger added that Aliaksei rules the house when it comes to Mario Cart.
“As your aware, the Viper is a force on the ice, but did you know, he’s got a .800 + win % in Mario Kart Wii? I’m still uncertain if he plays the game just to see how badly he can whoop me or if he finds it challenging. One night he, my youngest daughter and I were having a three race mini tournament and when he crossed the finish line, he had enough time to put his controller down, turn to the two of us (still racing) take a knee and shade his eyes like he was trying to find us in the distance. Such a clown.”
Leaving home and traveling halfway around the world to play hockey can be a very daunting task for any hockey player, let alone a teenager. Billet families like Roger’s make the transition and day-to-day life for a player as much of a positive experience as possible. Junior hockey simply wouldn’t be able to function without the support of billet families.
Thank you to Roger, Kim, Brooklyn and Cailin Pagé for contributing to this article, and for all you do in supporting Aliaksei as he chases his dream.
And thanks to all billet families. Junior hockey couldn’t survive without you.
By Jon Sorensen