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July 22, 2015

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre

As a physical defenseman he took his fair share of penalties over his long career. But there is no truth to the rumor that Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre once got a two minute minor for too many names on the ice.

Jean-Luc was born in Montreal on February 2nd, 1977. He would have a much different than his parents had as children, as his family had emigrated to Canada before his birth. Both his mother and father came to Montreal from their native Haiti to study health care. His mom became a nurse and his father became a radiologist.

But their son would study the great Canadian game of hockey. And languages.

"There's a really big Haitian community in Montreal and everybody speaks French and Creole there," Grand-Pierre told author Cecil Harris in his book Breaking The Ice: The Black Experience In Professional Hockey. "I spoke French first, then Creole. I picked up English when I was nineteen. I knew I'd be coming to the States to play hockey and I thought I'd make the NHL, so I started taking English lessons."

Grand-Pierre was a quick study. Despite an interest in academics he decided to bypass the NCAA college route and give the NHL his best shot by playing three seasons with the Val-d"or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Grand-Pierre, who grew up idolizing Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios, played defense with a physical exuberance that got him noticed by NHL scouts. The St. Louis Blues drafted him 179th overall in the 1995 NHL draft.

The Blues would trade him to Buffalo before Grand-Pierre even turned pro. He would play two seasons with the Sabres organization, primarily in the minor leagues, before joining the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.

Jean-Luc became a fan favorite in Columbus because of his physical play. He hit anything that moved, and also answered the bell whenever a teammate was in trouble.

If he stayed within his limitations Grand-Pierre could play defense at the NHL level. He skated well for a big man. He had a long and powerful stride which allowed for a surprising burst of acceleration. He pivoted well and showed nice lateral quickness.

Without the puck he was a solid player. He used his long reach well to pick off passes and block shots. It made him a solid penalty killer.

Where Grand-Pierre got into trouble was when he handled the puck too long. He became prone to turnovers. He learned to make quick, safe plays to clear the puck from the zone. And, with seven career goals, he offered little in terms of offense.

Grand-Pierre would play parts of four seasons in Columbus. He would have brief stints in Atlanta and Washington in 2003-04 - his final NHL season.

Grand-Pierre sort of disappeared from the NHL. He ended up playing nearly another decade in Europe - primarily Sweden and Germany but also in Finland and Norway.

Everywhere he played he was popular, and he was cognizant of the opportunity he had to impact youth. Grand-Pierre told Harris he appreciates being a role model for other aspiring hockey-playing black youth.

"It means a lot to me now when a black kid or the parent of a black kid comes up to me and tells me that I'm an inspiration. I thought about being somebody that kids could look up to when I was coming up in the sport. That's what kept me working so hard at it."

Grand-Pierre, who left the ice in 2013, has become a realtor in the Columbus area.

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