PETERBOROUGH, Ontario -- The life of Steve Chiasson was celebrated in an emotional funeral mass attended by some of hockey's greatest names on Saturday.
Wayne Gretzky, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Carolina Hurricanes and numerous hockey stars joined the Chiasson family and friends for a standing-room-only congregation at the 800-seat Cathedral of St. Peter's-in-Chains.
Susan Chiasson told the gathering she wanted the ceremony to be a celebration of her husband's life.
She said when she first learned Steve had died, in a single vehicle accident near their Raleigh, N.C., home Monday morning, she felt ill in her stomach. In the intervening days, she said the love and support she's received from family, friends and the hockey community has helped to ease the pain.
"Through God, Steve and all your prayers," she said, fighting back the tears, "that pit in my stomach has been replaced by Steve's love and his strength and his ability to always stay positive."
Carolina captain Kevin Dineen spoke of Chiasson's humbleness.
"Steve wasn't a man of many words but he was comfortable in any situation," Dineen said. "When he needed to say something, he'd be the type of guy to say it."
Dineen also touched on the events leading up to Chiasson's death, after he left a party at teammate Gary Roberts's house, following Carolina's playoff elimination last Sunday.
"There are things we all wish we'd done differently," said Dineen, the last person to see Chiasson alive. "This tragedy comes down to one person's judgement. It was a direct result of Steve's stubbornness and his desire to see his family."
Chiasson was traveling about 74 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone when he crashed, said an accident report released last Tuesday. Although blood-alcohol test results will not be available for two to three weeks, the report issued listed intoxication as an accident factor.
Chiasson's sister, Susan Reinhart, remembered her "big, little brother" as he grew up from his rock collection, to countless games of monopoly and scrabble. She also recalled pulling him off the outdoor rink when he was six.
"He'd always say just five more minutes," she said. "I also remember the chills we felt when he got to the NHL and his first game with the big boys."
She also addressed Chiasson's wife and children Michael, 8, Ryan, 4, and Stephanie 2.
"Hockey was Steve's life but they (Susan and the kids) were the core of his being."
Teammates Ray Sheppard and Dineen served as pall bearers along with Chiasson's boyhood friends Dean Haig, Jim Morton, Neil Wyath and Tim Keating, his brother-in-law.
As they left the church they passed through a row of Minor Petes players, from the major bantam and midget AAA teams, that formed an honor guard. Chiasson played his minor hockey with the organization they represented.
Other NHL players attending the funeral included Paul Coffey, Dino Ciccarelli, Sean Burke, Bob Probert and Stu Grimson. Those with a Peterborough connection included Steve Larmer, Tie Domi, Kris King, Roger Neilson, Jacques Martin, Dick Todd and Steve Webb, among others.
Gretzky, a teammate of Chiasson's during the 1993 NHL all-star game, said he had the utmost respect for the defenseman.
"He was always tough for me to play against. ... He was a true NHL competitor and played the game the way it should be played," Gretzky said.
Chiasson, born in Barrie, Ontario, but raised in Peterborough, played 723 NHL games with Detroit, Calgary and Hartford, which moved to Carolina. He had 92 goals and 297 assists.