Liam Dunda: Luck with Billet Families has Helped Shape him into the Player he is Today

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Liam Dunda is in his first year on the Queen’s Gaels, and is #26. In this team photo, Dunda is 8th from the right in the second row – Photo by Ian MacAlpine

Liam Dunda is currently a first-year forward on the Queen’s University Gaels men’s hockey team, but he’s been many places already.

Growing up in Bellevue, Washington, Dunda got started in hockey, due to watching his older brother, Riley, lace up the skates at a young age.

“I got started playing hockey when I lived in Seattle. My older brother, Riley, played, and I wanted to play because he was, and my parents put me into hockey school in Seattle when I was three years old, and I haven’t looked back and I’ve been playing ever since,” Dunda said.

Having an older brother helped with his passion for hockey, because Dunda has said it was nice having Riley there to answer questions, and to just watch him on the ice.

“It was always nice having someone a little bit older who was able to go do and experience things before I had to, so, it’s always nice to have someone to talk to, and to kind of pick their brain and ask questions about stuff,” Dunda said.

“And obviously go to his games and look up to him because he was always bigger and older, and facing better players. So, it was nice growing up and watching an older brother play at a really high level and compete to want to be just as good as him even though I was younger, so, it helps,” he added.

Not only was it nice to have learn and grow from watching Riley play the sport, Dunda said that, throughout life, Riley has always been his number one fan, and vice versa.

“Someone who was always very energetic. He always had something to say about everything. He loved to talk, and loves to voice his opinion. Always has a bunch of energy,” Dunda said.

“Always extremely supportive growing up, and I’m very fortunate to have an older brother, and also have that older brother be my number one fan, which is awesome, and I think that’s the kind of relationship we have, is we’re both each other’s number one fans, and I think it’s an awesome relationship,” he added.

 

Prior to joining the Gaels, Dunda played for many junior hockey teams away from home, which has resulted in him living with a variety of billet families.

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Dunda (dark jersey) battles for the puck against a Concordia Stingers opponent – Photo by Robin Kasem 

A billet family provides room and board for a junior hockey player, if that player has left home to play for an elite team.

Dunda began his full organized hockey career in 2012-13, when he played for the Don Mills Flyers Minor Midget AAA of the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League (GTMMHL).

While playing for the Don Mills Flyers, Dunda played in 54 games, while recording 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points.

At the tender age of 15, Dunda left home for the first time, as he signed with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

While a part of the Whalers, Dunda played in 76 games, while recording three goals and six assists for nine points.

“That was my first year in the OHL, and it was a lot of fun. I lived with a billet family, and I lived with another guy on the team named Cullen Mercer, and it was a lot of fun, it was a cool experience leaving home to play in the OHL, and something that has helped shape me to who I am today, and a lot of the experiences I had then is something that I look back on today,” Dunda said.

“And you kind of laugh at all the moments, and it’s kind of nice having all the friendships and the relationships that you build that long ago, and how they are present today in my life, so it’s been pretty cool,” he added.

Following his time in Plymouth, Dunda traveled to Owen Sound to play for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, and while there, he played in 107 games, while recording seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points.

“Owen Sound was awesome. I loved Owen Sound, I have family that live pretty close to Owen Sound, so I’d always get to see them. And again, I lucked out with a billet family, and, again, they were just awesome people, and they did so much for me, and they made my time there very special, and the guys on the team were also great,” Dunda said.

Following Owen Sound, Dunda trekked off to the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, for the 2016-17 season, where he ended up playing in 71 games, while recording ten goals and 17 assists for 27 points.

Due to Sudbury being a city in which the Gaels travel down to, to play the Laurentian University Voyageurs, Dunda has said his billet family regularly comes to his games, and that is one of the families that he knows he’ll have them as part of the whole rest of his life.

“I still go to see them every summer, and I try my best to keep in contact with them as best as I can, and I’ve been really fortunate at Queen’s to go up and play Laurentian, so I get to go up to Sudbury during the year. They always come and watch me play, and to see them and spend some time with them is awesome, they’re like my second family,” Dunda said.

“And so, my time in Sudbury, I had a great coach there in David Matsos, and again, made friendships that are still in my life today, and I actually play with some guys on Queen’s that I played with in Sudbury and Owen Sound, and Plymouth,” he added.

Following his stint with the Wolves, Dunda spent the 2017-18 season, splitting time with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and then coming home to play for the St. Catharines Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL).

“Moncton was pretty unique, moving up to New Brunswick and leaving Ontario to play hockey was a lot of fun, and was a different experience. And it was wild out there, I had a really good time, but I decided to come home and get focused on school,” Dunda said.

Coming home to play for the Falcons, allowed Dunda to take some online university classes in order to boost his mark to get in the commerce program at Queen’s.

“So, that was a huge decision for me to leave something that I was so familiar with to come back home and play for St. Catherines just so I could focus on academics, and get the next part of my life started,” Dunda said.

“Like I said, there’s friendships that you know you’re going to have for a long, long time to come, and every experience that I had, I can’t say enough good things about the organizations, and the cities that I played in, and the billet families and stuff like that,” Dunda said.

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Dunda gets tangled up with a Carleton Ravens opponent – Photo by Robin Kasem 

 

Although this is his first year as part of the Gaels, Dunda has fit in well on the team, and has mentioned that throughout his whole hockey career so far, none of the teams feels like a family dynamic as much as the Gaels brotherhood.

“I knew some guys at Queen’s. I had friends that went to Queen’s, that aren’t at Queen’s, and I had friends who were on the men’s hockey team, and they did a really good job selling the school to me and, ultimately, it was between the University of Toronto and Queen’s. I always pick a school based on academics and what school would set me up for life after hockey and life after athletics,” Dunda said about his decision to come to Queen’s.

“So, the decision was made after coming down to Queen’s and meeting head coach Brett Gibson, and meeting the guys on the team for my visit. And just having a really good time, a really good experience, so, I’m extremely happy I made that decision, and playing for the men’s hockey team has been nothing but awesome so far, so, hopefully we can keep it going,” he added.

While a part of the Gaels men’s hockey team, Dunda has been studying commerce at the Smith School of Business, while also playing in 33 games, while recording eight goals and ten assists for 18 points.

Coming in, Dunda has said that he didn’t want to set the bar too high for expectations, but the slight expectations he did have, have far been exceeded due to the amazing season Queen’s has had this year.

“I would say last Friday (Mar. 1). Just winning OUA Eastern conference, and being able to host the Queen’s Cup next weekend at Queen’s University, you know, at the Memorial Centre last night was a huge win for us, and sweeping the Ravens and setting ourselves up to win a provincial championship, and to book a ticket to Nationals, is huge,” Dunda has said about his most memorable experience of being a Gael so far.

“And I think, so far, that’s been the best experience. So hopefully we can win the game next weekend, go to Nationals, and make more experiences, more memories,” he added.

This year, the Gaels finished the season in third place in the OUA East standings with an 18-10-0 record, but were bumped down to fourth, due to being caught in using an ineligible player.

Throughout the playoffs, the Gaels faced the Concordia University Stingers, the University of Ottawa (U of O) Gee-Gees, and the Carleton University Ravens. In the first round, against Concordia, the Gaels swept the Stingers to move on to round two. Round two was a little harder fought, as Queen’s took the series after the full three games. The Gaels then turned around, and swept the Ravens in the third round.

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Dunda’s team swept the Ravens in their OUA Eastern Conference Final series – Photo by Robin Kasem 

The Gaels have now booked their ticket to the OUA gold medal game on Mar. 9, while also clinching a spot at the USports men’s hockey nationals for the first time since the 2016-17 season.

“It’s pretty surreal, to be honest. Like I said, we have a really special group of guys here at Queen’s, and this is the first time that I’ve been on a hockey team that’s truly like a family, where everyone cares more about the guy they sit beside, than themselves, which, it’s refreshing, and it’s nice, and it’s really special to have a relationship like that with your teammates,” Dunda said about what its been like to clinch a spot to nationals in his first season.

“And I think that it shows through our play. How we’re willing to sacrifice blocking shots, or taking a hit to make a play for everyone else on the team, just for the success of the team. Its been surreal so far being able to come this far, and like I said, hopefully we can keep it going and win as many more games as we can this season and see where that takes us,” he added.

Dunda also credits the success the team is having, due to the team veterans stepping up and helping the rookies feel comfortable. There’s also the fact that the age difference between the guys doesn’t seem so large.

“We’re a family, so, they’ve been awesome. The age difference doesn’t really show on our team, everyone loves everyone, and everyone makes sure that everyone is comfortable and having a good time, and when we go out somewhere, we’re all together, and we do everything as a team, and I think that shows on the ice and is translated off the ice just being together and supporting each other.” Dunda said.

“If someone is having a tough time in school, there’s always a handful of guys there to help him, and if someone is having a tough time on the ice, there’s a handful of guys there to help him, and the veterans have been awesome about us coming in and showing us the ropes, and helping us adjust to university life coming out of junior hockey and everything like that, so, I can’t thank the older guys enough,” he added.

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Dunda and his team will be headed to USports nationals for the weekend of March 15-17 – Photo by Robin Kasem 

The success on the team has helped allow the team to grow since ten new players joined the team in September, and Dunda believes, due to this year, the team will have much more success in the future.

“Astronomically. Coming in, I think we had ten new guys this year, so, obviously when you bring ten new players onto a team, it’s a big learning curve, and you got to make adjustments. Everyone has to learn how to play with each other, and find new chemistry, and I think, from the beginning of the year to now, we weren’t really a team at the beginning of the year,” Dunda said.

“And through ups and downs of the season, we’ve had to come together, and who we are now as a team, as a family, leaps and bounds more than who we were at the beginning of the season, so I couldn’t be prouder to see where we’ve come as a team throughout the course of the season,” he added.

As for future Gaels, Dunda has said to just keep an open mind set, and to come into the team with positivity.

“To have an open mind set. You might be put into a role where you’re not used to playing that role. Some nights you might not get the most ice time, some nights you might get a lot of ice time, but to always stay positive and know that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself, and I think that our coach has done an amazing job of relaying that message, and getting guys to buy in, to what Queen’s and what our team is all about,” Dunda said.

“So, I think my main message for the person, is to have fun. We’re here to go to school, we’re here to play hockey, and mostly have fun with the game, and you have a limited amount of years left playing, so, just to make the most of every single day that you come onto the ice for practice and in games,” he added.

 

As to his own future, Dunda has said the challenges and adversities he has faced along his hockey path, have helped shape him into the person and player he is today.

“I would say growing up, not always being the best player on the team, being a bit bigger, and a bit out of shape. Not being the fastest, not being the most skilled guy, so, just always having to work for everything I’ve got in hockey,” Dunda said.

While he has faced many challenges and adversities, Dunda has also said the experience of leaving home and playing in the OHL at 15 years of age, has helped allow him to grow into a more mature person.

“Especially from the time I started, in the OHL at 15, I think that who I am now is completely different than who I was at 15 years old, and like I said, all the experiences and the life experiences that hockey has given me, and the relationships that I’ve gotten from hockey have helped me mature and grow as a person, more than my age, I think, which has really been beneficial to myself,” Dunda said.

“The maturity process has kind of accelerated, being put in a situation like that, so, I think my experience in the OHL, and playing junior hockey, has helped me mature, and grow as a person, and open up my eyes to other things in life besides sports. And then coming to university, which is entirely a different experience in itself, has helped me mature that much more, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he added.

As for the future regarding his career in commerce, Dunda has said he hopes his Queen’s degree “opens a lot of doors,” because its always nice to have a “Queen’s degree in your back pocket.”

“Just kind of keep every door open, and be open to new opportunities, and I think, just, be willing to try new things, and stay in business, maybe something down the financial route,” Dunda said.

As for his hockey career, Dunda hopes that he can keep playing for Queen’s and coach Brett Gibson, for as long as he’s able to.

“That’s kind of up in the air, obviously I want to play as long as I can while I’m at Queen’s University, and play for coach Gibson for the next four years, and try to win as many games as we can, but after that I really don’t know. I guess we’ll see how these four years go, and then I’ll make my decision based off of the success that I have,” he said.

But while playing, Dunda has said that in life, hockey has taught him persistency, and, when it comes to his future, he’ll be persistent in what he does.

“I think the main one would be persistency. When things aren’t going your way, just keep going at it, and keep giving it your all, and I think that’s probably one of the main ones that hockey has taught me. Especially, when things aren’t going right, just staying positive and sticking through it,” Dunda said.

“And that’s another thing that my brother has really taught me as well, you know, going through what he’s gone through, is persistency and just remaining confident in yourself and who you are as a person, and knowing that you can do more than what people think that you can do, I think is the biggest thing, and if you believe in yourself, you should have no problem keeping everyone else’s expectations, because you know what you’re capable of doing,” he added.

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Dunda has said that he hopes the success of the Gaels continues into nationals and next year – Photo by Robin Kasem 

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