Friday, April 18, 2014

Advertise with us »

A Spitting Image: How Mike Chiasson honors his late father on and off the ice

Courtesy of Chiasson family
Buy this photo

By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 14, 2013

Ben Holden blinked and did a double take to see if his eyes were deceiving him.

The CBS Sports college hockey analyst was in Ann Arbor for a Michigan hockey game in October 2011. He’d covered all the Michigan greats of the last few years from T.J. Hensik to Kevin Porter. But on this 2011-12 team, a team filled with players who were on the cusp of a national championship just months before, there was one young defenseman that caught his eye.

There was something about the way this player, Mike, hunched his back, crouched his legs and skated down the ice that started turning the wheels in Holden’s memory and took him back about 20 years.

As a hockey enthusiast and Michigan native, Holden naturally grew up devoted to the Detroit Red Wings. He’d seen scores of players pass through the organization in his life. But Mike resembled one in particular — a certain offensive defenseman who played in Detroit in the early 1990s.

Steve Chiasson was smart and steady. He played simple and hard. He spent 13 years in the NHL — and Holden was currently watching Steve’s eldest son, Mike, playing in his freshman campaign for the Wolverines.

For Holden watching Mike was like going back in time — specifically, a time before 1999, when Steve was killed in a car crash.

But there Holden was, in 2011, watching what looked like a reincarnation of Steve play at Yost Ice Arena.

“It was the first time I’d seen (Mike) play,” Holden said. “That was the lasting impression. If you put in a clip and see his dad and him, it’s scary.”

Mike’s been told so many times about the similarities between him and Steve, but he never gets tired of hearing it. And he never gets tired of talking about he man who shaped his childhood and helped bring him to Michigan — all because Steve enjoyed bringing his son to his ‘office.’

It was Sunday, May 2, 1999, and the Boston Bruins had just shut out the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0, in the Stanley Cup conference quarterfinals to clinch the series in Game 6.

Steve registered two shots on goal in that last game of the season for Carolina, but that wasn’t important. Hockey was over, and now he had the summer to spend with his family — but not before stopping off at a teammate’s house after returning from Boston.

Susan Chiasson awoke her sons early Monday morning. She carried her 2-year-old daughter Stephanie into the room that Mike, then 8, shared with his 4-year-old brother Ryan. She perched herself at the end of the bed and tried to explain a situation that she herself was still struggling to understand. Steve was dead.

He was killed driving home from a party at that teammate’s house. When the wreckage of his truck was found, it had been discovered that Steve’s blood-alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit.

Mike didn’t believe what his mother was saying. So, to go prove her wrong, he walked out of his room, ready to go downstairs to his parents’ room where he was sure his father would be waiting. His mother had to have made some kind of mistake.

He went to the landing, looked down and expected to see Steve’s face looking right back up at him. Instead, he saw Steve’s teammates from the Hurricanes and their wives in the family room and around the kitchen table, sitting, talking, crying, grieving together.

Mike just sat, frozen, at the top of the stairs.

“That was when it sunk in,” Mike said. “I sat for a second and then it hit me.”

Steve might have been gone, but the Hurricanes stayed. After Susan was done calling family and talking to the media, she looked outside her window and into the street.

There was Mike, Ryan and about 15 members of the Hurricanes outside playing street hockey. They had all come to take the boys’ minds off the death, at least for a little while, in the only way they knew how.

“(My mom) said it was amazing to see the people in the community,” Mike said. “She said it was just a testament to the Carolina Hurricanes organization and what they instill in their players. She said it was just great to see the support with the tragedy that had just taken place.”

Steve and Susan never wanted to push their kids into doing any sport, but when Mike decided that he wanted to devote his time to hockey, they gave their full support.