Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Despite tragic end, Chad Staley left lasting legacy as hockey hero

Prince George arena will be bear the name of beloved former Spruce Kings captain, who died of fentanyl overdose March 9

Chad Staley had been home just two weeks after finishing his first pro hockey season in Italy when he decided to join his buddies in Kennewick, Wash., in a men’s league four-on-four tournament.

In one of the games, the 25-year-old former Prince George Spruce Kings captain got hit with puck in the mouth hard enough that it broke his teeth. He returned to the rink the next day with his face still swollen and wore a full face shield so he could play. But his pain did not go away. It just got worse and he reached out to a friend for help. He gave Staley a little blue pill stamped with ‘M’ on one side and ‘30’ on the other, thinking it was the prescription drug oxycodone, but the pill was laced with fentanyl.

On March 9, 2020, while watching a hockey game in his TV room surrounded by shelves of his hockey trophies, Staley swallowed what his friend had given him. A few hours later, Staley’s mother Jennifer came in to the room to call him for dinner when she found his lifeless body.

“From what we can tell, he had taken one and it killed him instantly,” Jennifer Staley said. “He was home alone and we have cameras in our house. He had worked for me in my office and got a massage and got lunch at his favourite Mexican restaurant and he got home and I could see him going through the house laughing and singing and you could tell he was happy and having a good day.

“We came home at 5 and went to get him and found him and he had been gone for many hours. The paramedics came and tried to revive him, and we tried CPR, but it was no use. The paramedics tried Narcan and things like that. They tried for 45 minutes but it was no use and pronounced him dead. They said this fentanyl, when they take it, they usually die within eight minutes of taking it.”

Produced in labs and sometimes mixed with heroin or cocaine, fentanyl is considered 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  According to Health Canada, in the first six months of 2020, 1,628 people died of opioid toxicity and all but three per cent of those deaths were accidental. In those six months, fentanyl was the cause of 75 per cent of the accidental opioid overdose deaths. The majority of the victims were male and most were in the prime of their lives in the 20-49 age category. 

“I want people to not take street drugs or anything that’s not prescribed to you,” Jennifer said. “You don’t know what’s in these drugs. From what I’ve learned, they’re coming up from Mexico, they’re called Mexi-30s, they’re blue pills and they’re killing people left and right.”

Chad Staley arrived in Prince George in April 2012, along with winger Jeremiah Luedtke, his longtime hockey buddy from Seattle, when they were invited to the Spruce Kings’ spring camp. Both were undersized forwards but their chemistry together on the ice was obvious. The Kings signed them right after their weekend audition and they remained linemates throughout the three years they played in the BCHL. 

Staley was a shy 18-year-old junior rookie when he first put on his No. 22 Spruce Kings jersey but it didn’t take him long to come out of his shell. That season, the five-foot-nine, 160-pound centre scored nine goals and had 27 points. He won the Kings’ most improved player award and with every game his popularity with his teammates, coaches and fans skyrocketed.

“He was one of, if not the, hardest worker every day,” said Dave Dupas, the Spruce Kings head coach from 2010-15. “He was never any trouble and was always helpful to his teammates, and always respectful to the coaching staff, he was just a good kid. He was a better kid than he was a player and he was a very good player. 

“He just had this determination. No matter if it was practice or a game, up 10 or down 10, it didn’t matter, he was going to go out and give the same effort every time. He was skilled and strong on the puck and he never stopped. He wasn’t the biggest guy, the flashiest guy or the fastest guy out there but people knew when they played against him they were in for a long night because they had to keep going, just like he did. We were lucky to get him.”

As a kid, Chad Staley played baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer and when he was four he joined a roller hockey league. He was smaller than most of his peers and was just learning to skate on his inline blades. Jennifer said it made her cry with worry to see him getting knocked down but he reassured her that he loved it and took to the ice the following year. 

Chad excelled in hockey and grew up idolizing the Tri-City Americans WHL team. He played youth hockey in the Junior Americans program until he was a teenager and that led to a three-year stint playing midget hockey for the Wenatchee Wild. While playing for that team at a tournament in Kelowna, he caught the eye of the Spruce Kings. 

Named an assistant captain his second season with the team, Staley took on that responsibility and led the Kings in scoring as the team MVP with 29 goals and 33 assists for 62 points in 58 games. He wore the ‘C’ his final junior season and finished second to Luedtke in team scoring with 22 goals and had 58 points in 59 regular season games. Staley continued to light it up in the playoffs with three goals and six assists. The Kings eliminated Langley in five games but were swept in the second round by the division-champion Chilliwack Chiefs.

“He was a quiet leader,” said Dupas. “He was a kid guys could rely on and that’s why he ended up being captain. He wasn’t one of those guys yelling and screaming at people, he was a quiet guy who would go out and put his arm around you if you’re having a bad day and he’d say, ‘Just pick it up, don’t worry about it.’ He was a great captain.”

Staley was a fan favourite wherever he played. He always managed to find a kid or two in the stands and would toss them a Kings puck over the glass during warmups. His biggest fan was Kiara Turgeon, a special-needs teen who wore Staley/Luedtke jerseys to games. On the day he died, he had two pictures of Kiara hanging in his room in Kennewick. 

“Every move he made was further from home, first it was Wenatchee, then Prince George, then Alaska, and then Europe,” said Jennifer. “He absolutely loved Prince George. He loved the people, he loved his billet family, he loved his team and his coaches. He just loved the Prince George Spruce Kings so much, it was so instrumental in him getting his hockey scholarship to Fairbanks.”

The feeling was mutual. Prince George loved Chad Staley.

“He was so good in the community,” said Dupas. “He was always out talking to kids, making special appearances, visiting kids, he was down at the food bank doing the baskets at Christmas time and he was doing it with a smile on his face. You didn’t have to ask him to do it, he wanted to do it, you just had to tell him where and when and he’d be there with a smile and work as hard as he did on the ice.

“He spent time with handicapped kids and those less fortunate and he was a hero to those kids. He’d sit with them have a nice conversation with them. He was well on his way to having a good life because when you have work ethic alongside the character he had, it’s really hard to fail. People would bend over backwards to help him because he was the type of guy that would help anybody do anything at any time. He was one of those kids you just couldn’t find anything bad to say about him. It’s just a tragedy.”

The year before he died, Chad talked what career aspirations once hockey ended for him and he told Jennifer he wanted to go back to college to become a teacher. His plans to open a hockey school in Kennewick this past summer died with him.

“He was actually working on his logo and his agenda for working with the little guys and was talking to us about it just nights before he passed away,” Jennifer said. “He just has a good heart and I’m so proud of the man he became. He could have been a sportscaster. He knew about every player on every team in every sport. He constantly had ESPN on and his knowledge blew me away. 

“He was hilarious as a kid, I always thought he could be a comedian because he was always trying to make people laugh – Chad had a smile in his face his whole life,” she said. “I can’t think of a time we ever had cross words with each other, he was just such a wonderful child.”

Staley’s success as a Spruce King paved the road to a full-ride scholarship at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and he continued to excel on the ice and in the classroom. After struggling against NCAA opponents his rookie season, he earned team awards in each of the next three years. He led the Nanooks in scoring his sophomore season and was the most improved player that same year. He made the WCHA All-Academic team three times and in his final season his popularity earned him the fans’ choice award.

Armed with a degree in psychology at Fairbanks in the summer of 2019, he accepted an offer to play pro hockey in Germany for the Hamburg Crocodiles of the Tier 3 Oberliga. He was on a point-per-game pace nine games into the season when he suffered a knee injury that kept him off the ice for a month. As one of only a couple English-speaking players on the team the language barrier added to his isolation while he was sidelined and not being able to play made his adjustment to the pros that much more difficult. 

He knew Buoninconti, his former Spruce King linemate, was playing not far away in Egna, Italy, and he told Staley they needed players. So on Dec. 12, after working out a deal with both coaches, he left his German team on good terms to join the Cavaliers of the Italian Hockey League. 

The Cavaliers had just played a game on Jan. 4 when Buonincontri and Staley made a last-minute decision to go on a roadtrip. Buonincontri is from Montreal and his cousin, Detroit Red Wings 2018 first-round pick Joe Velano, was playing for Canada at the world junior hockey championship in the Czech Republic a year ago when he and Staley decided to go watch them play in the gold-medal game. They starting driving to Bolzano at 3 a.m., then took a train to Milan and flew to Prague, then drove another four hours to get Ostrava, arriving just an hour before game time. It was a sleepless but worthwhile journey. In a thrilling final, Canada rallied from a 3-1 deficit and scored three goals in the final 11 minutes to beat Russia for gold. They made it back just in time for practice two mornings later.

Staley and Buonincontri were roommates in Italy and as soon as he arrived from Germany he took out a painted Spruce Kings logo and hung on a wall. “It was the first thing he did when he walked into the apartment,” Buonincontri said. “I couldn’t tell you how much he loved that crown.”

Staley played 14 games with Unterland, scoring five goals and 17 points but the team didn’t go far in the playoffs and he and Buonincontri had to scramble to book their return flights home while COVID outbreaks were rapidly filling up Italian hospitals. The week before he died, Staley was working out the details to return to Europe play for a team in Sweden.

“Me and Chad always knew we were going to reunite somewhere playing overseas and when we got that deal done to come over it was still early in the year, but after COVID our year kind of shut down a bit,” Buonincontri, who makes his off-season home in Montreal, said.

“After playing at a really high level in the NCAA in Alaska, when he came in to Europe he was just beginning his career. He became a better player and it’s sad to see after all his work. He could have played another 20 years. He wasn’t a big guy but he had a heart of gold.

“Chad was always consistent on the hockey side, nothing was different. He was the hardest worker on the ice, he really gave it all, and he was a captain-material everywhere he went. He had an impact on the team not only on the ice but off the ice as well and everybody loved him. He was a true leader. I lived with him and he was a best friend and a brother to me.” 

Jennifer and Pam Staley have been living together since 2008 and they got married in 2012, the year Washington state passed the law to allow same-sex marriages. For most of his childhood, Chad considered Laurie Page, Jennifer’s former common-law wife, his second mother, and she is now partnered with another woman. When he was 14, Chad and Jennifer began living with Pam and her son and daughter. Chad never had a father. Jennifer was artificially inseminated and she gave birth to him on June 29, 1994. 

“He had billet dads who were instrumental in helping him and he looked to his coaches as father figures too and we’re grateful to all of them,” said Jennifer.

She assumes some of his school peers gave him a rough time about having two moms but he took it in stride and never felt uncomfortable with his family life. “He embraced it, he was proud of his family. He never talked about being teased, but I know as he got older and became a teenager he stood up for us. If other people talked bad about same-sex relationships or marriages, even if it wasn’t about us, he would defend it. He wrote papers about it in high school, about the fact he’s had this wonderful life and he was raised by two women and that the stigma was incorrect.”

After his death, Jennifer found a letter in Chad’s computer he’d written to a young hockey player in Alaska who was in a similar situation with two female parents. He offered him advice and told him he wasn’t alone and that he was there to support him whenever he needed it. 

Lynda Pattie was Staly’s billet mom in Prince George and in the three years he lived with her and her now ex-husband Scott and their son Jaymes they formed a tight bond with Chad and his family. The Patties made the trip to Fairbanks to see him play his last college game in 2015 and had stayed in contact ever since he graduated the junior ranks. His sense of humour crept into the conversation one day when he called on Mother’s Day and touched on the complications of having four moms in his life as well as a fifth adopted mother.

“I remember Chad saying, ‘Lynda, Mother’s Day is a very busy day for me,” Lynda said.

Sometime in the next week, the compact hockey rink that now occupies what used to be four sheets of curling ice at Prince George Golf and Curling Club will be getting a name. It will be called the Chad Staley Memorial Arena and if Lynda Pattie has it her way his name will be on that rink forever.  When Pattie, the owner of Ascentech Solutions Inc., a local software development and IT support business, caught wind that Mike Peterson and Chris Hunter of Northern Ice Sports were marketing the naming rights to the rink they built, she jumped at the opportunity to immortalize her favourite Spruce King. Pattie is also the founder of the newly-created Chad Staley Memorial Athletic Foundation to raise money and create skill development opportunities for less-fortunate kids to play hockey and other sports.  

“Chad was family, he phoned me every Mother’s Day, always at Christmas, always on my birthday,” said Pattie. “With the naming rights being available we thought it was a perfect way to launch the foundation and to raise awareness about Chad as well.”

Jennifer said: “It brings me to tears thinking his name will be on an arena. He was a very humble young man and he would be honoured that this is being done in his name because he liked kids. He would be happy to see his name put towards young hockey players furthering their skills and goals.”

Thirty family members attended Chad’s funeral in Kennewick, which happened just as the state was going into a lockdown to try to contain COVID-19. The family hopes to be able to invite his friends and former teammates to a celebration of his life later this year.

Jennifer said they know who sold the fentanyl to Chad’s friend but the police in Kennewick are powerless to do anything about it because there’s no proof that ties the dealer to Chad’s fatal dose and no charges will be laid.

If there’s anything to be gained out of Staley’s death, it’s the warning it serves of the dangers of street drugs and how deadly they can be. It’s not just thrill-seekers or known drug users losing their lives, it’s everyday people, some in chronic pain, some waiting for surgical procedures, or, as in Staley case, someone reaching out for temporary relief from the agony of an injury.  

 “When we first put a message out on Facebook right after he passed away I didn’t want people to think Chad was some drug addict that had a problem, he didn’t,” said Jennifer. “He was a good kid who was doing everything right in life and he made this horrible decision that took his life. It’s tragic and it has stop. Somehow we’ve got to get these drugs off the street.

“It worried me that people would think negatively about him but you just have to be honest and tell what happened because it could save someone’s life.”