“The day it’s over, I’ll be ready for my life without hockey. I won’t be sitting on my couch after two, three months thinking, what am I doing with the rest of my life? »
There are many stories of hockey players looking for themselves after their careers are over. Alex Chiasson does not want to be part of it. This is why, even if he does not think of retirement, he is already planning his return to school, in order to pass the six courses he misses to obtain his diploma. In order, also, to fulfill a promise to his parents.
The forward, currently a free agent, therefore decided to act this summer, by getting closer to his alma mater, Boston University (BU). For the first time since leaving school in 2012, Chiasson will spend the summer season in the town of New Kids on the Block.
The story of his return to the region began at the height of the pandemic.
“I was 29 and had a lot of free time,” he recalls. The players association (AJLNH) organized Zoom sessions to give us advice. Once I logged in and it was about retirement. What do you want to do ? Do you want to get a realtor’s license? It got a lot of players in the league thinking. »
Chiasson hoped to return to school as early as this summer. That’s what he told us when he was at the Bell Center with the Detroit Red Wings in April. But as he says, “that’s easier said than done.” Among the factors that led him to postpone the project: he and his wife got married this summer. But there is more.
“When I left in 2012, I closed the books, I told myself that I was going to come back one day to finish. But I should have come back sooner. Guys didn’t do it much back then, but they do it more now. Now the youngsters see the NHL alumni, so they understand that they will be able to come back. »
In the meantime, he met a resource person for student members of BU sports programs. “I have six classes left, and we made a plan for the future. My six courses, I would do them in a year. It’s been a long time since I was in school, I must be rusty! But then I stepped in the door.
“When I signed my contract with Dallas after my third year here, I told my parents that I was going to come back to school and finish my classes. But for us, it’s not just for my degree. We want to settle here. This summer, it made me want to live in the city again, to go out for dinner.
“So when I decide it’s over, we have a game plan. It’s a bit scary. You live the same life for 11 years, and one day you have to turn the page and accept your new life. »
Stories like Chiasson’s make the NHLPA happy. The players’ union launched the UNLMT program last month, which aims to encourage its members to explore their interests outside of hockey.
“Our approach is individual. Alex wants to finish his degree. But everyone has their plan. Some want to create a podcast, another want to explore agriculture,” says Rob Zepp, a former goaltender who played 10 games for the Philadelphia Flyers, and is now director of strategic initiatives for the NHLPA.
For Zepp, initiatives like Chiasson’s can only be beneficial for players, especially when launched while said player is still active. Zepp recalls that he completed his MBA while playing. “And I can say doing that made me a better player. I was motivated on the ice, but my life wasn’t just about it. »
“There is a growing body of research supporting, generally speaking, the notion that an athlete who has interests other than his sport derives performance benefits from it. Take that research and add it to what players are telling us, and it goes without saying. »
Enough to prove, more than 30 years later, Stéphane Richer and his “there is not just hockey in life”, which he had confided to legendary colleague Marc de Foy.
Back to school is great. But Chiasson is adamant his career is not over.
That said, he’s been free as air since July 1 and hopes to land a contract. That’s nothing new to him, notice. Last year, he waited until November before getting a contract, and it was an American League contract, with Grand Rapids. In March, the Red Wings offered him one for the NHL. He therefore played 20 games with the Wings, registering nine points (six goals, three assists).
In 2021, he had signed his contract in October, just like in 2018 and 2017. “I’m not nervous, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier with the years! “, he says, laughing.
In the meantime, he is taking advantage of the BU’s facilities to keep in shape. These initiatives are not innocent: by making their infrastructure accessible to their alumni, universities have found an incentive to repatriate them. When their return leads to a degree, as Chiasson might, the student-athlete graduation rate benefits.
Chiasson trains four days a week, on the ice and in the gym. In the group that precedes him, there are two hopefuls of the Canadian, Lane Hutson and Luke Tuch. Obviously, Hutson particularly caught his attention.
“You see he eats it, hockey. It’s his passion. He has a very bright future. He has a big role, he is coming to his second year at the BU. With all he has accomplished, sky is the limit. He has exceptional talent and is dedicated to coaching. »
Her message for him? “I told him to enjoy those years. Appreciate what you have right now, you are in one of the best university programs in the United States. »