DETROIT – It won’t be the first time that freshman Mike Chiasson skates at Joe Louis Arena when he takes the ice tonight with the University of Michigan.
In fact, the defenseman took his very first skating strides at The Joe. That’s because his father, the late Steve Chiasson, was a defenseman with the Red Wings when the future Wolverine was just a toddler.
“This is where I learned how to skate,” Chiasson said, after UM finished their pre-game skate on Thursday morning. “I grew-up in Grosse Pointe (Michigan), so after practices I’d be the guy who would be out there at 18-months-old with a walking chair or a stick in my hand.”
The eldest Chiasson was drafted by the Wings in 1985 and quickly became a fan-favorite in the late 80s and early 90s. He played in the 1993 All-Star game, the same season that he recorded a career-high 62 points.
Chiasson spent six seasons with the Wings until he was traded in the summer of 1994 to Calgary in exchange for goaltender Mike Vernon.
After two seasons with the Flames, Chiasson was sent to Hartford and stayed with the franchise as they transferred to Carolina. He spent much of the 1998-99 season injured but returned for the playoffs and scored a power-play goal in the first period of Game 5 against the Boston Bruins.
The goal would be the last of Chiasson’s career. Driving home from a team party on May 3, Chiasson wrecked his pickup truck and was killed on impact.
Chiasson played 751 games in 13 NHL seasons, picking up 93 goals and 305 assists along the way. And despite the tragedy, the relationship with hockey that the elder Chiasson had instilled in his son on the JLA ice didn’t end with Steve’s untimely death.
“When something tragic like that happens there’s a couple different ways to look at it,” Chiasson said. “But I fell in love with the sport at an early age and that didn’t change the way I felt about the sport.”
Before joining the Wolverines, Chiasson played with the Omaha Lancers in the USHL from 2008-11. He was captain last season and earned the team’s leadership award, given to the player who best exemplifies both on and off the ice the qualities of dedication and leadership to his team and community. In 122 games with the Lancers, he tallied 27 points, 90 penalty minutes and a plus-23 rating.
Chiasson committed to UM in late May after considering a few other offers.
“Obviously once Michigan calls you’ve got to strongly think about it,” Chiasson said. “I was here for less than 24 hours in my visit and fell in love with the place.”
The quicker pace and stronger opponents of college hockey made for a brief adjustment, but the 20-year-old Chaisson has been fitting in well with the young team, which has nine freshmen on the roster.
“It’s been good,” Chiasson said. “I’ve just been like a sponge trying to take in as much as I can from the older guys, just learning every day and trying to get better. I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.”
On the stats sheet “fun” translates to a goal, eight assists and a plus-11 rating in 20 games.
“I really liked my first 10 games,” Chiasson said. “Had about six or seven in the middle where I wasn’t pleased with my play and then the last three right before the (Christmas) break I felt like I started getting back on track with the way that I know how I can play.”
And even though Chiasson was only eight-years-old when his father died, he still tries to emulate the former Wing whenever he is on the ice.
“My dad, the way he played was just being an honest hard-working guy, a great team guy, a leader,” Chiasson said. “So that’s the kind of stuff I like to bring – kind of the way I look at myself.”
Although memories of his father are vague, one that really sticks out for Chiasson is his dad’s final goal against Boston in the ’99 playoffs.
As the oldest of four siblings, Chiasson is a role model for two sisters, and brother, Ryan, who currently plays with the Peterborough Stars in the OJHL.
“He’s bigger than me,” Chiasson said of his brother. “He’s about 6-foot-1, just shy of 200 pounds. When we play in the summers everyone always thinks he’s older than me. It’s nice to have a brother who’s around the same age when you skate because you have an extra guy to go play shinny or work out with in the summers.”
The rest of the Chiasson family lives in Las Vegas, and, although they’re unable to attend the GLI this year, they’ve made it to Ann Arbor for two games at Yost Arena.
A student in UM’s School of Kinesiology, Chiasson hopes to play hockey in the future but understands how valuable his education is.
“I’m hoping to play hockey as long as I can,” Chiasson said. “This sport can open up so many doors and you can meet so many people but right now I’m just focused on the present, with the game at hand tonight. I’m going to try to play as long as I can and I do know that there is life after hockey.”