One year ago, Alex Chiasson joined veteran teammates Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen in the press conference room at TD Garden following Boston University’s 2-1 win over Northeastern University in the first round of the Beanpot.
Chiasson had just played one of the best games of his freshman season and he had a game-winning goal to show for it. As he followed the two upperclassmen onto the stage, he copied their every move and repeatedly looked over at them to see how they were conducting themselves.
Now, as the Terriers return to the Garden tonight for the first round of this year’s Beanpot, it’s Chiasson, who has a team-high 24 points, doing the leading. Now, it’s this year’s freshmen looking to him for guidance.
“They realize that this is an example to follow, that there’s success going on there,” BU coach Jack Parker said of Chiasson. “He’s getting goals, he’s getting a lot of ice time, he’s a real important player to this team and he’s one of the best players in the league. You wonder how he does that.
“Well, he does it by working real hard all the time, by coming to practice ready to go, by getting mentally ready to play, by being upset if he doesn’t play well. If he has a bad shift or a bad period, he tries to get himself straightened out and not just say, ‘Oh, it’s not my night.’ I think he’s a great example for the rest of the kids to follow.”
Before he became that great example, Chiasson had to fix his own game. Although his 19 points last season led BU freshmen, Chiasson knew he could’ve been much better, and knew he’d have to be this season.
“Last year, I’d have a good game and then I’d take a few nights off,” Chiasson said. “This year, I’m trying to be more consistent. I’m one of the guys who plays the most and I have to be a leader on the team. Night in, night out, I have to show up and be who I’m expected to be here. That’s the biggest improvement from last year, coming to play every game.”
Chiasson isn’t just a leader by example, though. The St. Augustin, Quebec native is also one of the most vocal players on the team, and he has no problem calling guys out when they aren’t doing their jobs. He even went so far as to label himself “the bad guy on the team.”
“In the locker room, if something doesn’t go the way I like it to, I’ll just let you know and I couldn’t care less,” Chiasson said. “That’s just the way I am. I think you need someone like that on the team. … I guess sometimes guys get pissed off at me, but in the end, we’re old enough to realize what’s going on.”
Parker said Chiasson’s willingness to speak up is nothing but a positive.
“That’s a huge asset for the coaches to have a player of his caliber be like that,” Parker said. “And it’s a huge asset for his teammates to have somebody else besides the coaches telling them they’re not working as hard as they should be.”
Although speaking up comes naturally for Chiasson, the language he does it in does not. When Chiasson left home to attend Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y., four years ago, he didn’t speak a word of English.
Parker said it was at Northwood that BU first got a look at Chiasson. He said he liked what he saw on the ice, but that the language barrier raised a red flag when it came to academics.
Chiasson worked just as hard in the classroom as he did on the ice, and come spring, English was no longer a problem for him.
“By the end of the year, he was a great student there and he’s had absolutely no problems after that,” Parker said. “Not only was it not going to be a problem, but it looked like it was going to be an asset. He worked so hard academically and he’s a bright kid. I wonder how many people could go to a French high school without speaking a word of French and be able to get through it. My answer is, I couldn’t.”
After Northwood, Chiasson went to the Des Moines (Iowa) Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League for the 2008-09 season. Parker and the rest of the BU coaching staff stepped up their recruiting efforts as Chiasson led Des Moines in scoring.
Chiasson said he knew he wanted to play in the Northeast because he wanted his parents to be able to watch him play. He said his parents make the five and a half hour drive from St. Augustin, a Montreal suburb, to Boston almost every weekend for his games.
After that, Chiasson said the two biggest reasons for choosing BU were Parker’s history of developing NHL players and trainer Mike Boyle’s track record of getting guys into NHL-ready shape. Chiasson said he’s glad he made the decision he did.
“I love being at BU,” he said. “This is a great program. I love being coached by Coach Parker. He’s a great guy and he gets the best out of me. I don’t want to get out of here. It’s a great place to get better as a hockey player, definitely.”
Chiasson said he also feels fortunate to be here, not just because it’s an opportunity that many players never get, but also because he got a second chance. Parker suspended Chiasson for the first two games of this season for breaking team rules at some point last year. Although Chiasson declined to go into specifics about the situation, he said it made him a more mature person.
“It’s kind of hard, but I grew up and matured,” Chiasson said. “I learned a lot. Coach gave me a second chance. He knew what kind of kid I was. And for my part, I knew that wasn’t myself and it shouldn’t have happened. … It puts everything back in perspective, knowing that I could’ve gotten kicked out or whatever. I don’t like thinking about it. It was hard.”
Parker called Chiasson’s mistake “an aberration” and said, “It’s been not even close to being a problem since.” As soon as last season ended, Chiasson realized he needed to set a better example this year.
“After [Chris] Connolly and [Joe] Pereira, I knew that as a forward, a lot of guys would look up to me with the freshmen coming in,” Chiasson said. “Charlie [Coyle] and [Matt] Nieto and those guys have a bright future in front of them, and I’m trying to set the guidelines and make sure they’re doing the right things on and off the ice.”
Although Chiasson’s consistency and leadership have changed since last season, his knack for scoring big goals hasn’t. He leads the Terriers and ranks second in Hockey East with four game-winning goals this season. Chiasson said big games, like Monday’s showdown with No. 1 Boston College, are what he lives for.
“I’m always the type of player who gets geared up for games like that,” he said. “I like the challenge. When it’s a close game, I’m always looking to Coach and saying, ‘Put me on the ice.’ That’s the time I want to be out there. That’s the time you want to be a hero for your team.”