When the Penguins have an emergency, they call on someone from N.S. It's not who you think

Mike Chiasson, right, is shown at a practice at Boston's Fenway Park on Jan. 1, 2023. Chiasson, from Cole Harbour, N.S., is Pittsburgh's emergency backup goalie. (Submitted by Mike Chiasson - image credit)
Mike Chiasson, right, is shown at a practice at Boston's Fenway Park on Jan. 1, 2023. Chiasson, from Cole Harbour, N.S., is Pittsburgh's emergency backup goalie. (Submitted by Mike Chiasson - image credit)

Mike Chiasson was in the stands at Fenway Park for the NHL's Winter Classic in Boston earlier this year when the starting goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, was injured in the first period and had to exit the game.

For Chiasson, who is originally from Cole Harbour, N.S., he knew what it meant.

"I handed my daughter to my wife and said, 'I gotta go,' and left her," said Chiasson, 37.

Chiasson is the emergency backup goalie, or EBUG, for the Penguins. With the injury to Jarry, it meant that if backup Casey DeSmith also got injured and couldn't continue, Chiasson would go in.

Chiasson put on his gear and waited in the dugout in the event his services were needed.

While Chiasson never ended up playing, he said this was around the sixth time that he dressed for a game as the EBUG. It happened again recently when he dressed for Pittsburgh's game against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 24.

The emergency goalie is meant to fill the void when injuries occur to goalies on short notice or in the midst of games. The EBUG can play for either team.

Submitted by Mike Chiasson
Submitted by Mike Chiasson

Fans love it. It gives an everyday citizen the chance to be an NHL goalie, even with the game on the line.

The most famous emergency goalie is 42-year-old David Ayres, a Zamboni driver by day who suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes in a 2020 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Chiasson never played professionally. He played in the QMJHL with the Rimouski Oceanic before four seasons with the Acadia Axemen, the last in 2011.

"Who would have thought that, technically, I could still play in the NHL at 37 without really playing for those 12 years?" he said.

Chiasson's day job

By day, Chiasson works as a goaltending development professional for the Lemieux Sports Complex's youth hockey programming. The site also doubles as the Penguins' training facility.

Chiasson also regularly practises with the team at home, serving as a third goalie to take the load off the team's two goalies. In these practices, he gets to go up against his lifelong friend, Cole Harbour's Sidney Crosby.

The pair played on hockey and baseball teams together growing up.

On summer days, when a teenaged Chiasson just wanted to sleep in, he remembers many mornings when the phone would ring and Crosby was on the other end wanting to play road hockey. Chiasson's mom would tell Crosby that Chiasson was still sleeping.

"Obviously, it worked out very well for him and maybe I should have took him up on some of those early morning games," said Chiasson.

Crosby wasn't available for an interview, but in a statement via the Penguins he said it's awesome to see the impact Chiasson is having in Pittsburgh.

"Mike is a great goaltending and skills coach and I'm happy to see the success he has had with the young players here," he said.

"It's pretty surreal to think of him as an EBUG. I have seen how hard he's worked and all the early mornings he's been out there when he's been called upon. It would be great if he got the opportunity to go in someday."

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Their lives have taken them to some of the same places, including Rimouski.

Chiasson began playing for the Oceanic in 2005-06, which was Crosby's rookie season as a Penguin.

Career highlight

On the Oceanic, Chiasson played on a rebuilding squad. At Dec. 29, 2005 game on the road against the Quebec Remparts, Chiasson stopped 67 of 71 shots in a 5-4 win in what he said was the game of his life.

Months later, the teams would meet again.

"I just remember the papers kind of saying, 'Can Chiasson do what he did last time against these guys?'" he said. "And they all found out pretty quick that that was not going to happen."

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Chiasson gave up three goals in about four minutes and was pulled. His replacement didn't fare much better, giving up three goals in eight minutes. Chiasson went back in and the drubbing continued.

By the end of the second period, it was 11-2 Quebec and the coach wanted to pull Chiasson, again.

"I felt bad for the little guy, I said, 'Listen, no reason to put that rookie back into this game. I'll just finish it,'" said Chiasson.

Chiasson gave up five more goals in the 16-3 loss. Seven of the goals were to Alexander Radulov, a former first-round NHL draft pick.

University hockey

Chiasson played another season for Rimouski and then started playing for Acadia in the 2007-08 season.

After a brief stint working with the Atlantic Hockey Group, Chiasson landed a job in 2011 as the manager of youth hockey programs with the Penguins, which he did for two years. The role involved helping grow hockey at the grassroots level in the Pittsburgh area.

Submitted by Eric Cederberg
Submitted by Eric Cederberg

Chiasson was then recruited by the Axemen to be an assistant coach for the men's hockey team. Chiasson saw it as an opportunity to get more coaching experience and add to his resumé.

Some of the players on the team were rookies when Chiasson played on the Axemen.

"It's tough to come back at a young age and separate that," he said. "But on the other side, I think it's good to be able to connect with the guys and be a voice for them to come to and just to be more of a player's coach to them."

Returning to Acadia

Acadia hockey coach Darren Burns said this was one of the reasons he hired Chiasson.

"He was outstanding because he's an excellent communicator and he's a very well-respected guy and he has a calm presence about him.… I've always felt it's very important to have a younger assistant coach because as our staff, and unfortunately myself, get older, having a young guy that can be the conduit between the players and the coaches, I think that's essential," said Burns.

Liam Richards/The Canadian Press
Liam Richards/The Canadian Press

Burns envisions Chiasson eventually ending up in a front-office role because of his calm demeanour and intelligence.

After two seasons with the Axemen, Chiasson returned to Pittsburgh in 2015 and again served as the manager of youth hockey programming.

Since August 2019, he's worked exclusively as the goaltending development professional with the Lemieux Sports Complex.

No time for another league

With the amount of time Chiasson spends on the ice with his day job and helping out at Penguins' practices, it doesn't leave him with much of a desire to play in a league.

"I'm on my skates enough," he said. "The last thing I'm looking to do is run to the rink at 11 o'clock to play in a beer league game," he said.

Chiasson believes he's a better goalie today than during his playing days, which he chalks up to better understanding the game now and the practice time he's logged for the Penguins.

Life as the EBUG

As the emergency goalie, Chiasson gets two tickets to home games, which he dutifully attends. If his phone rings during the game, it might be the night he suits up.

It's a role he continues to enjoy.

"I don't know how long I got doing it, but the body still feels good," said Chiasson. "I don't want to look back and say, 'Why did I stop?'"