For the third straight summer, the NCHC will be talking with former NCHC student-athletes about their experience in the conference and also how their professional careers are going following college. A podcast with the full audio of each interview is available in a series titled "NCHC: Where Are They Now." After each interview, a new episode will be posted to the Where Are They Now podcast, along with a short feature story on NCHCHockey.com. Below is the second story from season three in our eight-part summer series “NCHC: Where Are They Now”, which features former Western Michigan forward and captain Chase Balisy.
As Chase Balisy was preparing to go to bed one night last October in Springfield, Mass., his phone rang at about 10:30 p.m. He thought about ignoring the call, given it was late and he didn’t recognize the number. Thankfully, the former Western Michigan captain decided to answer. It was the assistant general manager for the Florida Panthers on the other end telling him he was getting called up to the NHL and would likely make his NHL debut that weekend.
“It was a dream come true,” said Balisy, who immediately called his parents to share the good news.
For Balisy, this was a long time coming. The Fullerton, Calif. native was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft following a successful rookie campaign with the Broncos. After three more strong seasons in Kalamazoo, including garnering Second-Team All-NCHC in the conference’s inaugural season, Balisy earned his diploma in finance from Western Michigan, but never received a contract offer from the Predators.
“That was definitely one of the tougher points, seeing everyone else is signed,” Balisy recalled of the spring and summer of 2014. “When you’re drafted and don’t get signed, you’re not a free agent until the middle of August so that was kind of a long wait in itself.”
Once August 15 finally arrived, Balisy was officially a free agent and able to sign with any team. He received two offers and realized his best opportunity was with the St. John’s Ice Caps, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. His decision was a good one, as he finished second on the squad in scoring, which earned him an even better offer.
Following the 2014-15 season, Balisy signed a two-year, entry level contract with the Panthers.
“I think it was a long wait to get to that point,” the 5-foot-11 centreman admitted. “But it was nice to finally sign an NHL deal and have a team believe in you that you can play at that next level and give you that opportunity.”
While that opportunity was eventually realized, it would still be a few more years before Balisy got his chance. In his first season in the Panthers organization, the former Bronco suited up for the Portland Pirates, Florida’s then-AHL affiliate up in Maine. In the second and final season of his deal with Florida, the Pirates relocated to Springfield, Mass., so Balisy spent the 2016-17 campaign with the Springfield Thunderbirds, serving as an assistant captain and putting up 45 points in 76 games.
Those numbers were good enough to earn Balisy a new one-year contract to remain in the Panthers system heading into last fall. But once again Balisy was assigned to Springfield to start the 2017-18 season, his fourth in the AHL.
“I think the longer you’re there, the tougher it is to stay dialed in and keep that as your goal,” Balisy said of reaching the NHL. “For me, it was continue to do the right thing every day and at some point that pays off. It’s really just sticking with it. Doing things every day to get better and get yourself to that next level. And looking at the long-term goal and not the day-to-day things.”
Balisy’s plan of keeping the long-term goal in mind paid off when he picked up the phone that October night. The assistant GM told him he had a 6 a.m. flight the next morning down to Miami, so, after talking with his parents, Balisy headed to Springfield’s rink that night to get his hockey gear.
“There wasn’t too much sleep that night, but it was definitely worth it,” added Balisy.
Balisy made his long-awaited NHL debut on Oct. 28 in Sunrise, Fla., hitting the ice for 10:47 and firing two shots on goal. The Panthers faced the Detroit Red Wings no less, a team he’d become very familiar with playing in Michigan for several years, and also a team that included some of his former Western Michigan teammates in Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski.
Although DeKeyser and Witkowski did not play in Balisy’s debut, he said it was fun seeing and talking with them during Florida’s morning skate on gameday. And the former Bronco duo turned Red Wings even gave Balisy some good-natured ribbing, more than his own Panthers teammates, taking videos of him on the ice. That night, Balisy was spared having to take the infamous solo lap to start warm-ups that many NHL debutants make.
In addition to DeKeyser and Witkowski, Balisy’s dad flew in from California, his mom came down from Toronto and his sister also joined them to watch Balisy fulfill his childhood dream.
The dream lasted nearly a month as Balisy played in eight games for the Panthers, including a West Coast swing that allowed him to play three times in his home state (San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim). Then, it was back to Springfield for the rest of the season.
“When you’re there and haven’t played in the NHL, there’s a little bit of making sure you can play at that level. Then after you’ve played at that level and experienced the game and the speed and how everything works, I think you get a little more comfortable and more confident you can be successful at (the NHL) level,” Balisy explained. “Then there’s also things you realize you need to work on, so you come back down to the AHL and you work on things to get better to get back to that level and maybe stay up there. It’s all a big process about working on your game and getting better.”
With his one-year deal with the Panthers expired, Balisy is now a free agent. While his future is still to be determined, he knows what he needs to work on in the off-season – getting stronger and faster and better at faceoffs.
“Guys are that much better at the next level taking faceoffs. It sounds like a small part of the game, but it’s really important,” said Balisy, who compiled 129 points in 161 career games for WMU from 2010-14. “Also keep shooting the puck and work on your shot and work on your offensive side of your game to bring in more of that to my game.”
While he waits to see what his options are for next season, Balisy says he doesn’t have a preference where he plays.
“You just want to be put in the best situation and give yourself the best opportunity as possible to play at the NHL level,” Balisy stated. “I think that’s everyone’s goal and what you’re looking for in a team.”
Chase Balisy made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers on Oct. 28, 2017 vs. Detroit.