Throughout the Eugene Generals’ storied ten-year history, there are certain individuals who have helped the team grow and thrive. Host families are a major reason why the Generals have grown and thrived over the past decade.
With people such as Leilani Towner recently joining the organization as a host family, the Generals hope to have even more success for the next decade.
Whether cheering on the Generals along the northeast corner of the ice or snapping photographs at the Coaches Show at Sixth Street Grill, Leilani has been instrumental in her support of the Eugene Generals as a host family (otherwise referred to as a “billet”). Seemingly at the rink almost every day, it is hard to believe that she has only been with the team for not even a full year.
Born in Wyoming, Leilani has lived in many different places throughout her life—briefly in Portland, thirteen years in Hawaii—but grew up mostly in Montana. With Montana having long, cold winters, she and her sister would go ice skating on frozen lakes while her father went ice fishing. She recalls going to an indoor rink one time, where she was amazed at the novelty of ice located inside a facility. Even though she figure skated, Leilani still was clueless about the sport of hockey, which she now regrets missing out on for all these years.
It was in North Carolina though, of all places, where her love for hockey blossomed. Four years ago, Leilani had been travelling in North Carolina when a friend of hers had recommended to see an NHL game live in person. With the Carolina Hurricanes at home during that same time, she figured why not and decided to purchase a ticket all the way in the nosebleeds at PNC Arena (RBC Center at the time). Leilani had zero idea of what to expect as she had never attended a hockey game beforehand. In fact, she did not know anything about the sport. Unbeknownst to her, a new chapter in Leilani’s life would begin once that puck dropped at center ice to start the game.
Immediately, Leilani fully immersed herself and loved every bit of the action of the hockey game. Standing up and roaring with applause after a goal, appreciating the big hits along the glass, Leilani finally realized what she had been missing out while living under the big sky of Montana. Everything about hockey was so thrilling and exciting for her. And that was just in the first period alone; she thought the first intermission was halftime! With forty minutes actually left, it could not get any better for Leilani as the excitement continued through the second and third periods. Once the game clock read 0:00 in the third period, her indomitable love of hockey would last forever.
If North Carolina seemed like a random place for her passion of hockey to begin, then of course it would be another random state such as Iowa for her love of the game to grow even further. Recently living in the Hawkeye State up until 2013, Leilani would get her hockey fix through the Dubuque Fighting Saints, a Tier I Junior Hockey team playing out of the United States Hockey League (USHL).
Similar to Generals home games, Leilani would stand close to the action and support the Fighting Saints, including her favorite player Evan Janssen. Becoming a season ticket holder less than a month after her first game, Leilani would attend every home game, playoffs included, as the Fighting Saints would march on to win the Clark Cup Championship under Head Coach Jim Montgomery.
After getting into Fighting Saints hockey and closely following Janssen’s development, Leilani regularly went to the Mystique Ice Center in Dubuque, skating at the public sessions every night. She would eventually buy her own pair of hockey skates and get into great shape, where she also attended drop-ins and stick times. Seeing her at almost every public skate at the Rink Exchange, this should come as no surprise to anyone.
Shortly after, Leilani’s work would require her to move elsewhere, with her having the luxury of choosing a place based on five options. If she were to choose a city to move to, that particular place MUST have one requirement: a junior hockey team. Preferring junior hockey to the NHL, she did her research of the five places and stumbled upon a team called the Eugene Generals. With that condition met, Leilani would make the move back to Oregon, this time in the Willamette Valley.
Leilani moved to Eugene about two years ago, where she would continue her work as a microbiologist. During her first year in Lane County, she attended a few Generals home games, though she would not become the diehard fan she is today. She did, however, spend a lot of time at the rink with public skates, where she started asking Jayne Detering, Director of Player Housing for the team, about potentially hosting players for the upcoming season. After all, she had always thought deep down that becoming a host mom would be something right up her ally.
Weighing the possibility of opening up her home to Generals players, she asked for advice from someone who had been through the player housing process before: Evan Janssen. Leilani recalls asking Janssen, who now plays NCAA Division I for the University of Denver, about what makes a good host family. Janssen texted her back, explaining how she only needs to focus on three criterion (in order): be fun, be supportive, and be able to cook dinner. Meeting all three requirements, Leilani knew she had what it takes to become a billet for the Eugene Generals.
During this past season, Leilani was a billet to three players: Camden Mallery, Dustin Gomez, and now-assistant coach Daniel Gomez. She quickly found her niche within the Generals organization, with players, staff, and people at the rink in general referring to her as “Auntie.” Whether fixing an old Play Station or providing the necessary materials for the Ice Bucket Challenge, Leilani cherishes every moment of hosting players and being part of the Generals family.
“I really enjoyed everything last season,” she grinned. “It’s taken me a long time to find a group of people who think similarly to me. I came here to the Generals and fit in with the team right away.
“Each player has their own personality which is great. I saw lots of creativity, so much energy, focus, all while having fun—the hockey life. I learned a lot about the different positions, skills, and strategies from my players, and took Hockey Academy at the rink, which was on my bucket list. And yes, I cooked a lot of dinners.”
Leilani attributes her ability as a host mom in large part to a personal mission statement she abides by. Alluding to a passage she read in a USA Hockey magazine, her mission statement reads:
Junior Hockey provides a solid developmental bridge between youth and high school hockey, and the college ranks. In most cases, players must move away from home and develop athletically, academically, and socially in an influential time of their lives.
The aforementioned personal mission statement should serve not only with host families, but everyone involved in junior hockey. She also talked about how a host family should be very supportive of players, especially in a time of their lives where important life decisions are being made.
“I can think of no better way to provide a role model for a youth hockey player, support a local junior hockey team, and help a young man in this exciting time of his life than to be a host family. The rewards are limitless.”
Along with the limitless rewards of hosting players, Leilani cannot wait for the upcoming hockey season, where she believes the Generals will have success on the ice. “With Head Coach Kern and Assistant Coach Gomez, and their experience and forward-moving energy, there are going to be great things happening next year with the Generals. I am eagerly looking forward to see what happens next.”
Having been there before as a player, Generals Head Coach Justin Kern knows how vital people like Leilani are to the organization. “Leilani is a really great billet and personifies what we are looking for in billets,” said Kern. “She helps provide a stable home, a place where the players can enjoy themselves, and treats them like family.”
Without host families, the Generals, and any junior hockey team in the country, would cease to exist. Luckily for the Generals, they have someone such as Leilani “Auntie” Towner, a responsible, devoted individual who has no plans of leaving the team anytime soon. When asked about how much longer she plans on hosting players, she immediately responded with a seven-letter word: “Forever.”
For more information about Generals players housing and potentially becoming a host family, visit the Generals’ website.
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