For followers of North American professional hockey, Cole Harbour Nova Scotia is known as the home of two of this century’s top NHL draft picks; Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon. At Acadia, Cole Harbour is known as the home of Mike Chiasson (’11), a standout varsity goaltender during his four-years at Acadia and a young man who is leveraging his academic interests into an exciting professional coaching career.
In June 2015, Mike will take up his position as manager of Youth Hockey Programs for the Pittsburgh Penguins, leading the Little Penguins Learn to Play Program targeted at 4-8 year olds. The popular program is sponsored by Reebok and Crosby, and offers free equipment to young players who want to become involved with the game of hockey. While creating an interest in hockey throughout western Pennsylvania might be enough for some, Mike is also going to be the Head Coach for Pittsburgh’s AAA bantam major team and will be responsible for goalie development within the Penguin’s elite program as a whole.
For Mike, the Pittsburgh opportunity fits perfectly with his career plan, following two years as an assistant coach with Acadia’s hockey Axemen.
“I knew well before coming to Acadia that I wanted to be involved with sports after I was finished playing,” says Mike. “Growing up, my parents made sure school came first so I was a pretty good student in high school. I was at a family reunion in Cape Breton and spoke to the husband of one of my cousins and he had taken recreation management in university. He was working in sports so I knew it was possible to pursue the career I wanted.”
Mike’s hockey career followed the usual trajectory of a high performance athlete. Playing alongside Crosby during minor hockey, he then played Junior A in Nova Scotia before stepping up to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Rimouski Oceanic. While in Junior with Pictou County, his coach, Troy Ryan, spoke highly of Acadia. Mike also attended summer Hockey Nova Scotia selection camps at the Acadia arena, so was very familiar with campus and the community of Wolfville.
“I had always felt really comfortable in the Valley and heard lots of great things about Acadia,” says Mike. “By Christmas in my final year of Junior, I committed to Acadia. It wasn’t a decision I had to think about twice. It never even occurred to me to talk it over with anyone. I had known for a long time that I’d be going to Acadia.”
Mike says the choice he made was the right one for him. Along with playing on a varsity hockey team that is consistently ranked in the Top Ten in Canada, Mike was able to become more involved in the community and build his coaching and mentoring skills. In addition to coaching at Acadia’s summer hockey camps in each of his four years, he was an instructor and volunteer in Kinderskills and S.M.I.L.E. These programs, Mike says, “reinforced my desire to do what I’m doing now.”
Acadia, says Mike, challenges varsity athletes because there are so many demands on their time beyond the time it takes to also be a good student. But, he says, his professors where always very supportive and encouraged every student to engage in community-based activities. Thinking back on his time, Mike says it would have “felt weird’ not to be involved in the camps and with his other volunteer activities. Acadia athletes, Mike says are fortunate to have both the opportunities and support they receive from their coaches and their professors.
Acadia’s varsity hockey coach, Darren Burns agrees with Mike’s assessment of how being involved helps students reach their true potential.
“Getting the opportunity to play hockey at Acadia is an opportunity in itself, but our players are fortunate to experience the responsibility of being leaders on campus and in the community,” says Burns. “They are treated well by the surrounding community and want to give back. Mike took advantage of these volunteer opportunities as both a player and a coach. He has a passion for helping others and to teach and I think the sky is the limit for him. He’s so well rounded, he can adapt to many roles and fulfill every expectation of him.”
“I tell everyone who asks, that as an Acadia student you will get to know people in Town of Wolfville just as well as your classmates,” says Mike. “There are countless opportunities to get involved and your professors really get to know you. In fact, it’s not unusual for many of them to call you to find out if something is wrong when you don’t do as well on a test as they know you can. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’m very glad for the opportunities Acadia has given me. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned at Acadia to the program in Pittsburgh.”