By JAMES TUBB on December 16, 2023.
She doesn’t strap on goalie pads or make tape-to-tape passes on the power play but Carole Woolfrey-Harris contributes something the Medicine Hat Tigers need for success: safe and reliable billet homes.
Carole and her husband Joe Harris have been billeting for the Tigers for 15 years and she has been the Tigers’ billet co-ordinator since the 2014-15 season. When she was growing up, her family billeted Greg Vaydik who played for Medicine Hat from 1972-75.
When she got married Woolfrey-Harris says she and her husband discussed billeting and have enjoyed it ever since.
“We could maybe be part of somebody achieving their life goal and then it just blossomed,” Woolfrey-Harris said. “We started out with one player went to two, had three for a long time and then just went backwards to two and one. These kids leave home so early, I want these kids to be safe. I want them to have good experiences because we have to step in and kind of act like parents part of the time, too. So I just wanted to let parents know that their kids are OK.”
She says they’ve had many favourite players over the years and have their jerseys hanging in her office, from some of her first players like Dylan Bredo, Ty Stanton to more recent players like Ryan Chyzowksi and former captain Owen MacNeil. They’ve all left an impact on the couple and created a feeling of family while staying there and with their own families.
“What happens is you not only meet this wonderful child, kid, player, you also meet their family and we’ve made some lifelong friends,” Woolfrey-Harris said. “They’ve all been good kids, some have tested my patience a bit but as kids are going home, I think in my head, I’ve always treated them all the same.”
MacNeil was her last billet before he was released by the Tigers this September, a heartbreaking day in her house. MacNeil was traded to the Tigers ahead of the 2021-22 season and met with them the day he arrived to the city. He says she and Joe crated a second home for him and a life-long bond.
“I showed up the first day sat down and had a few hour long conversations and things just clicked, I knew it was going to be a great spot for me,” MacNeil said. “When you have people like that who are willing to support you in whatever way possible throughout your hockey journey, it’s pretty special. You can ask anybody on the team, who’s the best billets and who goes above and beyond and they’re the first people that come to mind.
“I still talk to them almost every day and I’m fortunate enough to go down to Mexico with them sometimes and enjoy a nice break down there. They’re pretty special to me.”
She’s enjoyed the challenges in her role as billet co-ordinator and all of the different boxes that need to be checked while finding homes for players ahead of each season. It’s a process she and associate coach Joe Frazer start in the summer to get prepared for the year ahead.
Working hand in hand with Woolfrey-Harris has been something Frazer says makes his job easy and creates that experience players need for success.
“There’s so many people behind the scenes of an organization to make it successful and she’s been one who has been behind the scenes but is just incredibly important to our players’ experience here,” Frazer said. “She’s been awesome to work with, I’m lucky to call her a friend. I can’t thank her enough and she’s a great Tiger.”
She also serves as the Tigers’ Respect Captain, a role adopted during Christmas 2021 as part of the league’s respect in hockey program. She meets with the leadership group to discus the league’s code of conduct and then passes it onto the team to ensure they’re keeping a safe environment at the rink as well.
Throughout her years billeting and serving as the billet co-ordinator, she says there’s been a lot of lessons and ups and downs. She’s learned how emotionally draining the junior hockey lifestyle can be on players and how she can help them without preaching solutions to them.
It’s all part of the job for Woolfrey-Harris, whether it’s consoling players who are losing ice time or figuring out if they know how to do their own laundry or if they like pets when deciding billet homes. She describes the role as a finisher, setting players up for their next stage of life, whether that’s pro hockey, USports or the work force.
“Because afterward, they’re headed to university, they’re heading to the NHL, the American League, another step in their lives,” Woolfrey-Harris said. “I just can say I love it. I think it’s great, I’m hoping I have done a good job for them.”