Mike Chiasson’s path to the Carolina Hurricanes’ dressing room carries him past some reminders of his late father.
Steve Chiasson’s framed No. 3 jersey hangs near one entrance. Nearby is a plaque with photos of his dad and an engraved list of the winners of the award that bears his name.
For the first time since his father’s death 14 years ago, Mike Chiasson has come back to Raleigh, and he wants to both carry on his father’s legacy and create his own.
The younger Chiasson, a 22-year-old junior-to-be at Michigan, is taking part in the Hurricanes’ developmental camp for rookies and college players. And just like his dad, he’s a defenseman who plays the game with gusto.
”It’s quite an experience,” Mike said. ”The name does carry a lot of weight in the organization and in the town, but that’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life, growing up in and out of NHL locker rooms because of his name and stuff like that. I’m just trying to prove who I am and just trying to be a sponge and learn as much as I can.”
He said he ”didn’t even have to think about it” and called it ”the easiest decision” to accept the invitation to camp from Hurricanes executive Ron Francis, a Hall of Fame player and a teammate of Steve’s with Carolina in 1998-99.
Chiasson – a popular 13-year NHL veteran with Detroit, Calgary and the Hartford-Carolina franchise – was killed in a single-vehicle accident in north Raleigh on May 3, 1999. He died hours after the Hurricanes returned to town following a loss at Boston that eliminated them from the Stanley Cup playoffs, and shortly after leaving a party at teammate Gary Roberts’ house.
”I’m kind of getting older now and found different ways to deal with it,” said Mike, who was eight years old when his father died. ”It’s something me and my family have dealt with my entire life, and it’s not something I let affect me. It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind and motivates me, as well.”
A toxicology report indicated that Chiasson had a blood-alcohol level of 0.27 – more than three times the legal limit in North Carolina – and police said he was not wearing a seat belt when he was thrown from his pickup truck.
No Hurricanes player has worn his No. 3 jersey since, though the number has not officially been retired. Mike, who wears No. 3 for his college team, was issued No. 33 this week.
And each year, the Carolina players give the Steve Chiasson Award to a teammate who shows extraordinary dedication and determination.
General manager Jim Rutherford called Chiasson’s death an ”unfortunate tragedy” and said bringing Mike to camp ”means a lot to us because Steve was a big part of the Hurricanes.”
”We still feel (the Chiassons) are part of the Hurricanes’ family,” he added. ”The fact that he can come to camp and continue his development, I really believe this is where he should be doing it.”
Mike isn’t a carbon copy of his father, though. He’s a right-handed shot while Steve was a lefty. At 5-foot-11 and roughly 185 pounds, Mike is a couple of inches shorter and some 20 pounds lighter than his dad and relies on brains over brawn to make plays on the blue line. In 16 career games over two seasons at Michigan, he has three goals, 11 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-6.
But his college position coach says both father and son have similar character.
”I know that Mike is obviously proud to represent what his dad stood for,” veteran Michigan associate head coach Billy Powers said. ”I know that Mike understands his dad’s reputation in (Raleigh) as far as being a stand-up guy, a community guy and essentially a ferocious competitor as far as what he did on the ice and how he showed up every day and his consistency. I see those attributes in Mike.”