He wears No. 3. Of course he does. He couldn't wear anything else.
No one has worn No. 3 for the Carolina Hurricanes since Steve Chiasson died on his way home from a season-ending party in 1999. The number isn't retired, because of the circumstances of Chiasson's death, but the franchise hasn't let anyone wear it again, either.
Michael Chiasson was 8 when his father died, the oldest of three siblings. As a 20-year-old freshman defenseman at the University of Michigan, Mike Chiasson wears No. 3.
"When I got here it just so happened to work out that Scooter Vaughn was a senior and graduating," Chiasson said. "I got lucky, I guess, that the number was there and available. Just lucky."
Eighteen months after Steve Chiasson died, the family moved to Las Vegas. Susan Chiasson remarried. Michael became Mike. Yet he never let go of the bond he built with his father on the ice, the only bond he had left.
He went out on the ice for the first time as a little kid at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena when his father played for the Red Wings. In December, he played on that same ice with the Wolverines.
"When something like that happens, a tragedy like that, people look at it in different ways," Chiasson said. "Some people shut down. You could say it was a way to connect with my dad. From when I picked up that first mini-stick and jumped on the ice at the Joe, I've been in love with hockey ever since. I really appreciate what the game has done for me so far."
Facing Michigan State
He stuck with the game growing up in Las Vegas, not exactly a hockey hotbed, before playing three years of junior hockey in Omaha. He has recorded nine points in 26 games for the Wolverines, going into this weekend's games against Michigan State.
"Good for him," said Martin Gelinas, a teammate of Steve Chiasson's with the Hurricanes and a front-office executive for the Nashville Predators. "I haven't seen him play yet, but I'm going to make a point now to go see him. If he's anything like his dad, it'll be worth the trip."
As he skates in his father's footsteps, his fledgling career recalls one of the great tragedies of the Carolina franchise. Steve Chiasson was a defensive stalwart for the Hurricanes, a 32-year-old veteran who fought his way back from a severe shoulder injury to make it back in time for the playoffs in 1999.
After the Boston Bruins eliminated the Hurricanes in the first round, a few players gathered at Gary Roberts' house in north Raleigh. Chiasson refused a ride home. Going 74 mph, he lost control of his pickup. His blood-alcohol level was measured at .27.
Ron Francis, who offered Chiasson a ride home that night, was recently watching video of a team playing Michigan when he realized the player named Chiasson used to live on the same block.
"When you see it, it kind of hits you," said Francis said. "It doesn't seem like that long ago. And yet you remember he was young, and the time has really kind of flown by."
'A success story'
Now, almost 13 years later, it's all a blur in Mike Chiasson's mind. He remembers the house where they lived, the rink where he skated with his dad and many of the people from the Hurricanes, but his life and his hockey career are moving too fast.
"That is a success story, isn't it?" said Hurricanes trainer Pete Friesen, whose wife and children were friends with Chiasson's family. "The guy is doing well. All the adversity with his dad passing, that's bad for anybody, and his dad was such a noted athlete in the community and in the league. For his dad to be taken from him, and now follow in his footsteps, it's exciting."
At the end of each season, the Hurricanes' players choose the winner of the Steve Chiasson Award, which recognizes determination and dedication. In 2006, Cory Stillman brought the Stanley Cup to Steve Chiasson's hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, to the statue and the pond that honor Chiasson's memory.
Mike was there for that. His younger brother Ryan plays junior hockey in Peterborough. Both want to be known as more than Steve Chiasson's kids, although it's impossible to see them any other way.
"I'm just a kid who gets by on hard work and being a good person," Chiasson said. "People do recognize the name, and I'm more than willing to talk about it, especially coming back to Michigan, where he spent the majority of his time with the Red Wings."
It's a different Chiasson now wearing No. 3.
"To do what he's done, stepped in as a freshman, it's impressive," Francis said. "I know his dad would be proud."