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Parole board splits on releasing former NHLer Rob Ramage to halfway house

Former NHLer Rob Ramage gets into a waiting vehicle after being released from court in Newmarket, Ontario on Jan. 17, 2008. Ramage is up for parole Friday March 4, 2011, eight months into his four-year prison sentence. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

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Former NHLer Rob Ramage gets into a waiting vehicle after being released from court in Newmarket, Ontario on Jan. 17, 2008. Ramage is up for parole Friday March 4, 2011, eight months into his four-year prison sentence. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

KINGSTON, Ont. - Former NHL player Rob Ramage couldn't convince a parole board Friday to release him to a halfway house but will get another chance to make his case.

Amid concerns over his drinking habits, the board's two members split on whether to grant Ramage day parole when he becomes eligible in May.

He'll get another hearing with a new board, although the date hasn't been set.

Ramage, 52, described as a model prisoner who shovelled snow and mentored fellow inmates, took the news stoically while his wife sobbed.

He remained calm throughout the hearing but teared up a few times as he recalled the "tragic, horrible mistake" that caused the death of his friend and fellow ex-NHL player, Keith Magnuson, more than seven years ago.

"I can't bring Keith back," he told the board.

"I have to try to do something productive and positive with something that is so bad."

Ramage was convicted in 2007 of four charges, including impaired driving causing death, in a crash that killed Magnuson.

He has served eight months of his four-year sentence at the Frontenac Institution in Kingston, Ont.

The board did grant him permission to leave the minimum-security prison for three-day unescorted absences once a month.

During the hearing, Ramage said he planned to spend that time with his father and brother in London, Ont. He also hoped to firm up a job offer there that would see him working with young hockey players once on parole, he said.

Much of Friday's hearing centred on Ramage's drinking habits, and whether he takes responsibility for the crash.

In the past, the former hockey player denied he was drunk at the wheel, despite urine and blood analyses that showed three times the level of alcohol permitted.

"I don't know that you've internalized ... that you were drunk and caused this," board member Pauline Hodgkiss told him during the hearing.

Ramage admitted Friday to driving drunk, but maintained he has never been an alcoholic.

The former defenceman was charged after the rental car he was driving slammed head-on into another vehicle north of Toronto in December 2003.

The two friends had just left a funeral reception for another former NHL player, Keith McCreary.

Ramage was jailed last July after the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected his bid for a new trial.

Ramage's lawyer, Brian Greenspan, had argued in the appeal to have the first-time offender's sentence reduced, calling it disproportionate for an upstanding citizen who had given much to the community.

Greenspan also said Magnuson's family had asked the trial judge to show leniency.

The court dismissed the conviction and sentence appeals.

Ramage will be eligible for full parole in November.

He won Stanley Cup rings with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. He also played for the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota North Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers.

Ramage retired after the 1993-94 season.

Magnuson was a rugged defenceman who played his entire 11-season NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks, retiring after the 1979-80 campaign. He also coached the team for a season and a half.

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