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Posted Tuesday, January 20, 2004
               
Hockey's the obvious choice for Grand-Pierre
                 
By Guy Curtright, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

ATLANTA, Jan. 19 - Soccer is the favorite sport in Haiti, the home country of Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre's parents.

But he's only been there for visits, making his choice of what sport to pursue an easy one.

"Soccer is big in Haiti, but not really in Canada," Grand-Pierre said. "Although I had to make a decision at 15, it really wasn't hard. I knew I wanted to play hockey. It is huge in Montreal where I grew up."

Grand-Pierre, 26, is a rarity in the NHL, which has less than two dozen black players. He is the second on the Thrashers. Defenseman Rumun Ndur, who was born in Nigeria but raised in Canada, played 27 games during the 1999-2000 season, the Thrashers' first.

"I know Rumun," Grand-Pierre said. "We played together in the minors at Rochester."

Grand-Pierre, who was excited to be traded to the Thrashers by Columbus on Dec. 31, has been active in the NHL's Ice Hockey in Harlem program.

"I think there will be more black players coming into hockey," Grand-Pierre said. "It's a great sport to play."

Grand-Pierre started soccer first but was playing hockey by age 8. Skilled in both, he had to make a choice.

The Montreal native choose hockey and at 16 was off to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His mother wasn't thrilled with the choice.

"With my parents, it was always school first," Grand-Pierre said. "My mom always wanted me to go into medicine. She hates hockey."

Grand-Pierre's parents came to Canada to study at the University of Montreal. His mother is a nurse, and his father, who went on to get his medical degree at the University of Quebec, is a radiologist.

Grand-Pierre was drafted by St. Louis in the sixth round of the 1995 draft and traded to Buffalo. He spent part of two seasons with the Sabres, then two-plus years with expansion Columbus.

Although never a scorer, the Blue Jackets converted Grand-Pierre, who has speed and toughness, from defenseman to winger this season, and that's where he played when he first joined the Thrashers.

When the Thrashers play the Sabres tonight at Philips Arena, Grand-Pierre will be back on defense for the second game, and that's likely where he'll stay.

"I definitely prefer defense," Grand-Pierre said. "I had played there all my life, so it's much easier for me."

Grand-Pierre, who is scoreless in 23 games with Columbus and Atlanta, played by far his best game Sunday, posting a plus-2 rating as the Thrashers ended a nine-game winless streak with a 5-2 victory at Carolina.

Pressed into service after Frantisek Kaberle was hurt in the opening 30 seconds, Grand-Pierre was on the ice for 34 shifts and 24:44 -- both career highs.

"The Thrashers have given me a chance, and I just want to make the most of it," Grand-Pierre said.

Once he feels his roster spot is more secure, Grand-Pierre would like to see more of Atlanta. Although the Thrashers had Monday off, he didn't get a chance to participate in the Martin Luther King Day events.

"It's great to have a holiday to honor him, but I can't get around much right now," Grand-Pierre said. "My car isn't here, so I'm just a walker. All I do is walk from the hotel to the practice rink in Duluth. I haven't explored much of Atlanta yet."

2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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