RALEIGH — Mike Chiasson was 8 years old that early May day in 1999 when he learned his father had been killed and his own life went sideways.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ season had ended with a playoff series loss to the Boston Bruins. Steve Chiasson, a veteran defenseman, returned to Raleigh from Boston that night and then attended an end-of-season gathering with teammates.
On the way home, Chiasson’s truck swerved off a two-lane road in North Raleigh. He was 32.
"It was something I didn’t believe at first," Mike Chiasson said. "It was something I had to learn to deal with quickly. It forced me to grow up and to become the man of the house."
Mike Chiasson is more a man than a boy now. At 22, he’s a hockey player at the University of Michigan, a defenseman who wears No. 3 – his dad’s number with the Hurricanes.
This week, Mike Chiasson is back in Raleigh. The Hurricanes invited him to their prospects development camp at PNC Arena, where Steve Chiasson never played but where Chiasson was honored in an emotional November 1999 ceremony.
A plaque commemorating the team’s Steve Chiasson Award and a framed No. 3 jersey hang in the Canes’ locker-room area. The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies determination and dedication and provides inspiration to his teammates.
No Hurricanes player has worn No. 3 since 1999, and Mike Chiasson is wearing No. 33 this week.
"I’ve got to wear 3 all my life, so I’ve never had to change or think about that too much," Mike said. "I consider it quite a tribute that the guys on the (Canes) equipment staff gave me 33.”
Steve Chiasson was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings and played parts of seven seasons for the Wings before going to the Calgary Flames, playing in an NHL All-Star game. Mike Chiasson said he first learned how to skate at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
Steve Chiasson was acquired by the Hartford Whalers in 1996, then made the move with the team to North Carolina the next year. In the first two seasons, the Hurricanes made the trek to Greensboro for home games while the new arena in Raleigh was built.
"Hockey was always it for me," Mike Chiasson said. "I spent a lot of time around the locker room and doing stuff in Greensboro."
And then everything changed. He woke up one morning to be told by his mother that his father had been killed. Not believing it, he went downstairs to find the living room full of grieving Hurricanes players and their wives.
For Mike Chiasson, there never was any doubt he would continue to play hockey after Steve’s death.
"It just felt natural and right for me to get back on the ice after it happened," Mike said. "Hockey was something where I felt the connection with my dad. I’ve never looked back since."
Steve’s widow, Susan, remarried and is living outside Las Vegas, where her husband, Randy Morton, is president at the Bellagio resort. Mike’s younger brother, Ryan, played this season for the Corpus Christi IceRays of the North American Hockey League. Ryan, 19, is a defenseman.
"Me and my brother have a great relationship," Mike said. "My sister, Stephanie, has grown up and is doing her thing with soccer and deciding what school she wants to go to. I have a younger sister, Ali, who is into horseback riding. My mom married a great guy.
"I just try to focus on myself and on the ice try to get better. Nothing crazy."
At Michigan, Mike Chiasson is teammates with Phil Di Giuseppe, a forward who was a second-round draft pick by the Canes in 2012 and again is attending the Canes camp. A hand injury has limited Di Giuseppe this week, and Chiasson took a stick on the nose Wednesday that has kept him off the ice.
Chiasson had not been back in Raleigh since the move to Nevada, and jumped at the opportunity to come to camp.
"Steve was a big part of the Hurricanes," general manager Jim Rutherford said this week. "We stayed in touch with Sue and the family over the years. We still feel they’re part of the Hurricanes family. The fact (Mike) can come to camp and continue his development, I really believe this is where he should be doing it."
Mike said seeing the plaque and jersey honoring his father was "pretty neat, pretty cool." Then came his first time putting on the Carolina jersey.
"To see ’Chiasson’ on the back and Hurricanes on the front, that was something pretty special, something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life," he said. "Obviously I want to play pro hockey. Hopefully this is one of the first of many steps to getting that chance."
Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip