The adrenaline is flowing, and it’s not just from game excitement. It’s Trade Week.

For USA Hockey member teams, that means coaches are evaluating rosters with playoff hopes in mind. Players are waiting for (or dreading) their next phone call. And billet host families are holding their breath. Because by February 6, everything in your hockey world could change.

What is Trade Week?

According to USA Hockey rules, member teams get their last shot to trade players and finalize their roster for the season by the annual trade deadline, February 6. It doesn’t make a big impact for most youth hockey players. But for junior level teams and players, Trade Week can mean a dramatic shift.

Coaches and team organizations are focused on strategy. Where could we be stronger? Who will we likely face in playoffs? What mix of players will give us our best shot? Phone calls are made. Deals are negotiated. And before you know it, a player is off to another team.

Expect the Unexpected

In most cases, a trade happens fast. When teams reach an agreement, a player is expected to report to his new organization within a couple of days—sometimes even the same day, depending on time and distance. That can come as a shock to players.

“It’s tough to leave the guys you’ve been playing with,” comments one NAHL player. “And it’s really hard leaving your billet family. I mean, it’s like you just started feeling at home and then you have to do it all over again.”

Andrea Palmer, a billet host who has had two players traded agrees. “When a hockey player comes to live with your family, you end up spending more time with them in a day than their teammates or coaches. So it can be tough when your ‘son’ is suddenly gone! That said, we respect what the team is doing. I always try to focus on the positives when the news hits, which helps dull the sting.”

It’s All Part of Development Hockey

Players progressing through junior hockey expect to hone their skills on the ice. But there are other strengths getting a workout, too.

“A coach has got to look at a player’s emotional maturity when considering trades,” says Steve Switzer, a former coach and now family advisor. “A player still needs to be able to focus on the game when everything else around him has changed.”

After all, a player who gets traded has to prove he or she can fit in with a new team, take direction from a new coach, and jump in to a whole new family situation. They’ve got to be organized enough to literally gather up their life and move on short notice. And they need to be personable enough to meet new people and slide into a different environment.

Getting traded requires mental toughness. And that’s a great trait to develop in hockey as well as life.

“I’ve had more than 20 boys live with us,” remarked Debbie Brigley, a longtime billet host, “so we know the drill. One of my billet sons was traded a lot: in juniors, then in the minors, and eventually in the NHL. He needed the skills he learned from those experiences. It’s part of the business, and he was able to learn it as part of his junior hockey career.”

Trade week junior hockey
Billet mom Andrea Palmer credits hockey trades with heartbreak, but also the chance to take in her new “son,” Ben.

Smoothing the Trade Experience

That’s not to say that trades are easy. Effort on the part of coaches, players, their families and billet families can go a long way.

Billet Mom Ashley Ryan found out about her player’s trade through social media—even before the player knew. “That was heart-wrenching. He was at World Juniors for Canada and never got to come back to us. The situation was unfortunate, but from a hockey aspect, it is an amazing move for him.”

Coaches should communicate reasons for a trade with the outgoing player and focus on positive opportunities for that individual. Although the player is usually the one to let his billet host know he’s being moved, an organization’s billet coordinator can make a big difference especially if a new player will be filling an empty spot in a home.

“Even letting a billet family know the new player’s name and a little about him would go a long way,” says Palmer. “It all happens fast, but when the organization can help players and families communicate what to expect beforehand, it gets everyone off on the right foot.”

Look at the opportunities

Both on and off the ice, a successful trade transition is all about attitude. And there are a lot of ways to keep it positive.

Players should focus on new opportunities: perhaps a better team, a chance to prove oneself, exposure to different coaching, even a new city to explore. Billet families have to look at the bright side, too.

“I wouldn’t have as many great billet relationships as I do without some of the trades we’ve been through,” says Brigley. “No matter how hard it is on me, I only see a trade as the way a player moves forward.”

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