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Former NHLer Rob Ramage granted day parole after first attempt rejected

Former NHLer Rob Ramage gets into a waiting vehicle after being released from court in Newmarket, Ontario on Thursday Jan.17, 2008. Ramage has only vague memories of the car crash that killed his friend more than seven years ago, but the former NHL defenceman says he'll never forget it was his fault.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 Thursday Jan.17, 2008. Ramage has only vague memories of the car crash that killed his friend more than seven years ago, but the former NHL defenceman says he'll never forget it was his fault.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

KINGSTON, Ont. - Rob Ramage has only vague memories of the car crash that killed his friend more than seven years ago, but the former NHL defenceman says he'll never forget it was his fault.

Ramage, 52, was granted day parole Thursday, 10 months into a four-year sentence for impaired driving causing death in a 2003 crash that killed his friend and former NHLer Keith Magnuson.

"I made a life-ending decision to drink and drive that day," he told the parole board. "I got behind the wheel, my friend is dead and his wife is without a husband ... That's my reality check every day."

There were gasps of joy from his wife when the two-time Stanley Cup winner was told of the decision. Ramage's first attempt was rejected by a different panel two months ago.

Ramage let out a sigh of relief but waited until the board dismissed the hearing to hug his tearful wife and daughter.

Ramage could be moved to a halfway house in London, Ont., within days. He told the board he has a job lined up and plans to continue speaking to at-risk groups about the dangers of drunk driving.

"This isn't the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting here, this is just another guy who got drunk and went out and killed somebody,”he said.

Over the course of the hearing, Ramage was asked to describe the days leading up to the deadly crash, but said he has only vague memories of what happened.

"There's a lot you don't remember," board member Bruce Malcolm remarked.

Ramage blamed his memory loss on the collision, saying he was knocked unconscious by the impact. As a hockey player, Ramage suffered many concussions that also affected his memory, he said.

"I wish I could remember every detail of that day and that afternoon," he said.

During trial, Ramage had denied he was drunk, despite urine and blood analyses that showed three times the legal level of alcohol.

At a parole hearing in March, he admitted to driving drunk, but maintained he has never been an alcoholic.

Board members at that hearing were split on whether to release him to a halfway house, citing concerns over his drinking habits. Instead, they granted him permission to leave the minimum-security prison for monthly unescorted absences.

At Thursday's hearing, the new board said they believe any risks related to drinking will be "manageable" while Ramage is on day parole.

The ex-hockey player is barred from drinking alcohol and visiting bars or other establishments where alcohol is the main focus.

He is also required to undergo psychological counselling, partly to address "factors related to drinking," the board said.

Ramage said he hasn't consumed alcohol since the crash and his family no longer keeps any in the house.

A court order prevents him from driving.

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

He and Magnuson 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.

He won Stanley Cups with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. He also played for Colorado, St. Louis, Toronto, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

Magnuson played his entire 11-season NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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