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PRINCIPE: Bob the Billet

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images

Bob the Billet, can Connor live here? Bob the Billet, yes he can.

My kids used to love watching Bob the Builder, which made me think of Bob Catalde and his family. They're the family that McDavid lived with his entire three years while playing in Erie. We had a bit of time to spend with Bob on the Sportsnet broadcast of Edmonton and Columbus. Unfortunately, it didn't allow us to get deep into the subject so I figured a blog would help further the story that is played out all across junior hockey cities.

The Catalde family consists of Bob and his wife Stephanie. They have three kids Caisee, Camryn and Nico. The oldest girl is 18, the middle one is 15 and the boy is 11. Then their 'other child' was Connor who arrived at the doorstep when he was 15. A friend of Bob's was asked by then-Erie owner Sherry Bassin if he knew of someone who could billet McDavid. The friend suggested the Catalde family. They hadn't billeted anyone before but liked the idea. One night Bob got a call from Bassin who, along with then-Otters coach Robbie Ftorek, wanted to meet for dinner. By the time appetizers and the meal were complete, the Catalde's had an addition to the family named Connor McDavid.

Now, this was something new to them and Bob remembers his dad saying words to the effect of, “you're going to take in a hockey player when you have a daughter the same age and one even younger."

Catalde said, “no need to worry,” and he never did because Connor treated both like the sisters he never had. From the moment he arrived on their doorstep, Connor fit the family like a glove. Never did Stephanie have to clean up after Connor. OK, maybe once or twice, but he kept his room clean. They never had to poke or prod him to get his homework done as he did it on his own. The fact the hockey player by night was an honour student by day proved the point. He was, as Bob said, such a great piece of the family puzzle he almost didn't have the right words to describe how the Catalde's embraced Connor.

This was a case of Connor living with a family but he also became part of the family. He was involved with them and would go skate with Nico's team to help Bob who was the coach. Just one of the many ways McDavid showed his respect. That was one of the things his parents, Kelly and Brian, taught their youngest son. Bob Catalde couldn't say enough about how Connor was when he arrived as Erie's top pick. He gained 'exceptional status' and exceptional was the way he was brought up by his parents. His billet parents could tell that right away.

Bob Catalde had planned on seeing Connor make his debut in St.Louis for McDavid's first game. A hockey commitment to his son's team prevented that from happening. Then Connor got hurt and there was no trip to see him in Pittsburgh. Finally, the entire Catalde clan watched him perform in Buffalo. Bob continued on to see him in Philadelphia and Columbus. The night before the game against the Flyers they went out for dinner and had a chance to catch up. In fact, Connor is planning on making a trip back to Erie in the spring to see friends and his old billet family.

Imagine sending your 15-year-old to another city, or in this case another country. You are putting your 'baby' in the hands of strangers. For Connor it worked out great. He gained a second family who sat with his first family for the game against the Sabres. The number-one pick said how special it was to play in front of family and friends. People who helped him get to where he is today. He hasn't forgotten them and they haven't forgotten him.

-Gene Principe
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