August 31, 2011
Ramage can't escape agony of his actions
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
LONDON, ONT. - For many 16-year-old OHL London Knights prospects, training camp is a new begnning.
It isn't much different for a 52-year-old hockey veteran.
But Rob Ramage comes from a far different place than these youngsters. For young players, the new beginning means forging a new direction, getting involved in new adventures and establishing reputations.
The new beginning for the former Knight and 18-year NHL player is also about forging a new direction but in the process, he has to overcome a nightmare of his own making, one he has accepted responsibility for, one he has learned from and without question, a nightmare he hopes will allow him to teach others so they don't follow the same path.
Ramage is working with the Knights young players. He is not an assistant coach. The best description is that Ramage is helping the Knights with their young defenceman.
He was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of impaired driving causing death in a crash in Woodbridge in 2003. Retired NHL player Keith Magnuson, who was a passenger in Ramage's car, died and a woman in another vehicle was seriously hurt. Ramage began serving his sentence in July last year. He was paroled in May to a halfway house in London.
Approached Tuesday at the Knights training camp, he simply said he "wasn't ready to talk (publicly) about what happened."
He didn't want any photographs taken and went into a dressing room when the shutters started clicking.
The big picture, though, isn't much of a mystery.
Ramage recognizes he is still in the system. He says that he's still a criminal on parole, rolling his incarceration number off the tip of his tongue.
He wants to serve out his time without creating any waves and he wants to be useful while he's doing it. His sentence expires in July 2014.
He looks in good enough shape to still play. He's personable but quiet and there's no doubt he carries the burden of Magnuson's death and the subsequent fallout heavily on his shoulder.
Ramage's case and what he does over the while will create an emotional watershed of opinion.
There are those who will always believe he can never make amends for what happened and shouldn't have any interaction with kids.
There are those who believe in second chances.
What Ramage did was wrong and no one knows that better than Ramage himself.
When he got behind the wheel, he changed the lives of many people forever.
Those who know Ramage also know what kind of man he is. He is a good guy who made a terrible decision and is paying for it.
Ramage's banner is one of several that hang from the roof of the John Labatt Centre, along with Brad Marsh, Brendan Shanahan and others. The Knights gave him a kickstart to professional hockey. It's fitting they give him a kickstart back into society after his conviction.
They would like him as an assistant coach but know what a public target that would make him and the pressure he would be under.
As it is, Ramage will be the centre of attention of all media, local and national, as his involvement with the team grows.
The Knights might not be as aware of it as Ramage is. Ramage knows the voracious appetite a story like his creates.
Ramage will go on the ice to help the defence during practice and likely offer advice during games. Ramage will have good hockey advice to offer.
Unlike those who believe Ramage should have nothing to do with young people, I believe what little good can come of this tragedy will come from Ramage himself.
He is a good man that has seen lives ruined because of decisions made to drink and drive. Ramage will have good advice on life to offer as well.
Alcohol is a major part of hockey culture. The Knights have had several public issues with drinking and driving.
It is so pervasive in hockey that players become immune to the consequences of drinking and while they are told about the problems, athletes have a tendency to believe they are bulletproof.
Ramage is living proof that athletes aren't bulletproof. Even more important, Ramage admits responsibility for what he did and that he was wrong to do it.
When he is ready to talk publicly, his story, his feelings, lessons learned and lessons he hopes to teach, will have the desired impact to change lives.
Only this time, the change will be for the best.