Jimmy Howard. Patrick Kane. Jack Johnson.
These are just three of the more than 60 National Hockey League players who stopped in Washtenaw County on the way to fulfilling their big league dreams.
Each year, Washtenaw County families open their homes to 46 of the best young hockey players in America. They play in the United State National Team Development Program, launched in 1996 by USA Hockey to identify and train the country’s best players. Based out of the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, which is also home to the Saline Hornets varsity hockey team, the US NTDP ices two teams that play across the country and around the world.
The US NTDP is looking for host families to put up young hockey players for the season.
What’s it like having a future hockey star live with your family? We sent questions to Lodi Township resident Sonia Gottfried, who last year hosted Henrik Samuelsson, a 2012 first round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes and son of former NHL player Ulf Samuelsson.
(Before we get to the Q&A, if you’re interested in opening your home to budding young hockey star, contact USA Hockey at (734) 327-9251 ext. 323 or email email@example.com.)
Here are our questions and Gottfried's answers.
What does it entail, opening your home to a young athlete who is always at practice, or playing on the road, or even in International tournaments?
I basically treat the boy like my son. I do for him exactly what I would do for my sons. I go to all home games and try to go to any away games that are possible. I make sure they are fed properly. I even have little chores for them to do when they aren't on the road.
They are very busy young men. They leave the house at 6 a.m. and don't return until 6 p.m. some days. I have spent several nights in the past working on homework and projects with them. It is a great program and the best way I could give my 3, 5, and 9 year old an "older brother."
Is there a certain size home that is required?
Size of the home isn't the issue. It is if they can spare a bedroom. They ask they boy has his own bedroom, but not necessarily his own bathroom. I know in my home I make all the boys share the same bathroom.
What is a homeowner responsible for?
I make sure that the pantry, fridge and freezer are full of healthy options. They are capable of making their own meals, but I would rather do it so I can insist that we eat as a family at our scheduled dinnertime of 7 p.m.
What did your family think of having a big name hockey prospect living with them all year?
As far as my family having Henrik live with me, it was just as normal as having any other kid live with us. He followed the same rules as us. He was very respectful. He spent all his spare time talking to us or playing with the kids. I can remember numerous evenings when he and my oldest son (then only seven years old) played hockey outside until late or were wrestling in the family room.
Currently I have a boy named Dawson Cook who will be going to Notre Dame next school year. He is an amazing kid as well—very sweet and quiet. Loves an occasion horror movie, which we all enjoy watching as a family. Dawson also makes a very good effort to make as many games of my boys as possible. He even made my preschooler’s graduation this past spring. That meant the world to him.
All the boys we have had are amazing hockey players and watching them develop has been a blessing for our family.
I can imagine how hard it is for these boys to come from their home at age 16 to live with complete strangers and follow unfamiliar rules. It has to be tough. I try to make it an easy transition.
Did you get to meet his dad, Ulf? What was he like? He had a reputation as a bit of a dirty player in his days.
Yes, I met Henrik's family, but we made a very conscious effort to not treat him like "Ulf's son" but instead like Henrik. When we talked about Ulf, we talk about his dad. I am very proud of Henrik and what he had to overcome. I'm sure people assume he was given a free ride, but let me assure you, that kid earned all he has and will get in life
Some of the best young hockey players in the world are playing up the road and nobody seems to know. What is it like being involved with the USNTDP program?
I absolutely love this program. My favorite is having these kids at home and being family. Then on game day, they are not the same boys I do laundry for or make mac n’ cheese for. The boys are now men on the ice and I wouldn't cross any one of them during their game. Then back at home I have them take out the trash.
How did you feel when Henrik was drafted?
When Henrik was drafted my husband and I couldn't be more proud. It wasn't like I had anything to do with it, but to know I was part of his journey and will continue to be part of his hockey career. I call him my "borrowed" son. I still keep in touch frequently and I know in my heart that our ties with him will never be broken. Henrik has a huge heart. After each game he would always give me a huge hug. (I love the hugs from these boys, but that's the Italian in me.) Then he would thank everyone for coming to his game because he knew we all had other things we could do instead. Then we would all say "great game" and talk a little about it over dinner, which we would have immediately after. He is a great kid!
For more information the program, visit the United State National Team Development Program website,