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Billet Family Matters

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

"When he first came to our house he was like a little puppy," Lori Rutsch said. "We all wanted to keep him."

The "him" that Lori referenced was a 16-year-old Tristan Jarry, who moved in with the Rutsch family - Lori, husband Ernie, and sons Khenan and Craig - in 2011 after being drafted by the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Long before he became an NHL All-Star and set the Penguins' franchise record shutout sequence (177:15 minute), he was a teenager learning to adjust to life with a new family and new home while balancing school and hockey.

Jarry, who was born in North Delta, British Columbia, lived with his billet family, the Rutschs, for over four years - and formed a bond that remains to this day.

"My billets have been with me the whole way. Your billets are a huge part of your (growth)," Jarry said. "They're there for all the ups and downs. They cook you all your meals. They do everything for you, so you can concentrate on hockey. I'm very thankful for them."

Jarry, who was born in 1995, was particularly close with brothers Craig ('94) and Khenan ('92) since they were all close in age.

"It was pretty cool when he came," Khenan said. "He was 16 and I was 19 at the time. It was nice to have another younger brother. It was cool to have a little guy to show the ropes.

"We view him as part of our family."

Part of showing Jarry the ropes was teaching him how to drive.

"He didn't have his driver's license at the time," Khenan recalled. "I had a standard car and he'd never driven manual before."

But once Jarry got his license, he opted away from cars for his true love.

"When he signed his signing bonus, he bought this big truck," Khenan laughed. "He didn't need me to drive him around then."

For Jarry, it was an adjustment becoming the youngest in the family.

"I have a younger brother at home," Jarry said. "Moving in I went from the oldest to the youngest. It took a little bit getting used to, but it was fun.

"Now I have two lifelong friendships."

The "brothers" - who have a group Snapchat named "The Billet Brothers" - have been inseparable. Khenan and Craig attended all of Jarry's games with the Oil Kings - watching him win a Western Hockey League title and Memorial Cup - and made trips to watch him in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

But during the Penguins' western Canadian road trip, the entire family had a chance to watching Jarry practice at Rogers Place and then defeat the Edmonton Oilers the following evening.

"It's cool to see his development from juniors to the American Hockey League to the NHL," Khenan said. "We went down to Wilkes-Barre a few times to watch him and see some practices. We got to see his practice (in Edmonton).

"It's really cool to see him live his dream out in the NHL."

Though Jarry has a reserved personality - "I don't really speak too much. I just keep quiet, keep to myself" - underneath hides a confident and aspirational young man. Even in his youth, Jarry believed that he would make it to hockey's highest level.

"I remember when he was young playing in juniors we talked about him playing in the NHL," Craig said. "He said, 'Boys, I'm going to make it.' Seeing him now, especially the way he's been playing, is insane."

The family always knew Jarry had what it takes to make it to the big show, but watching him take on the Oilers in person in late December was still a surreal experience.

"I still can't quite believe it, frankly," Ernie admitted. "People that I work with are always going, 'He lived with you?!'

"It's been an exciting run. We always knew he had the talent, but the NHL level is a lot different than the junior level. We've always been there to cheer him on."

And the family is elated to see how far Jarry has come from those early puppy days, maturing into a man living out his dream in the NHL.

"He's made a lot of sacrifices being a junior player, the stuff these guys miss out on as young men," Lori said. "Now it's all paying off for him. I think that's the best part of the whole thing. That's why I'm so proud of him."

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