Melissa Walsh

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre

Gale Group | 2005 | Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre

Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre

Black Biography: Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre hockey player

Personal Information

Born on February 2, 1977, in Montreal, Quebec Education: Attended Cégep College, Val d'Or, Quebec, c. 1992-96. Career Beauport (Quebec) Harfangs, amateur hockey player, 1993-94; Val d'Or (Quebec) Foreurs, amateur hockey player, 1994-97; Rochester (New York) Americans, minor-league professional hockey player, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000; Buffalo Sabres, professional hockey player, 1998-99, 1999-2000; Columbus Blue Jackets, professional hockey player, 2000-02, 2003-04; Syracuse (New York) Crunch, minor-league professional hockey player, 2002-03, 2003-04; Atlanta Thrashers, professional hockey player, 2003-04; Washington Capitals, professional hockey player, 2003-.

Life's Work

Voyons donc!--the idiomatic Quebecois expression meaning "Oh, come on!"--likely runs through Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre's mind as the powerful National Hockey League (NHL) checking dynamo finds himself again cited for a penalty. The Montreal native, one of only roughly 20 black NHL players, began his active pursuit of acquiring English during the late 1990s, when he set off on his journey to become an NHL skater.

The role of the six-foot-three, 223-pound skater is one of bumping and knocking opponents off balance--using physical play to challenge the opposing team. Though he prefers playing defense, Grand-Pierre finds that his coaches frequently play him forward, where his hard checking has made him a formidable right-winger. This flexibility has earned Grand-Pierre distinction in the NHL as a utility player. He can fill a defenseman void on a roster or bring checking strength to a forward line. Whether on defense or offense, Grand-Pierre is an enforcer. In the 269 NHL games he had played by end of the 2004 season, Grand-Pierre had spent 311 minutes in the penalty box.

Grew into a Tenacious Skater

Born on February 2, 1977, in Montreal, Quebec, Grand-Pierre grew up with hockey all around him, a sport that was certainly unfamiliar to his parents. Though they both had been raised in Haiti, Grand-Pierre's parents first met at the University of Montreal. His mother, Michelene, became a nurse, and his father, Allaix, pursued further study at the University of Quebec to become a radiologist. Grand-Pierre's parents first enrolled him in youth soccer. Later they tried figure skating. He traded in the figure skates for hockey skates by the time he was eight. Hockey crazy, like many other Montreal kids, Grand-Pierre rooted for Quebec's Nordiques and looked forward to watching his favorite player, NHL defenseman Chris Chelios. Grand-Pierre told the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Guy Curtright, "Soccer is big in Haiti, but not really in Canada. 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 said that his mother had her sights on his becoming a doctor. "My dad figured it out that I had no interest in that," Grand-Pierre explained to the NHL Web site's John McGourty. "But he was just as adamant that I get an education." He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "With my parents, it was always school first. My mom always wanted me to go into medicine. She hates hockey." Grand-Pierre pursued a bachelor's degree at Cégep College while playing in the juniors. His concentration was mastering spoken English, a practical skill for a young hockey player with aspirations of one day entering the NHL.

At 16, he proved his dedication to hockey, playing for the Beauport Harfangs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Grand-Pierre told McGourty that Harfangs coach Joe Canale helped him develop as a player. "[He] was so different from any other coach I ever had," Grand-Pierre said. "I learned a lot from him." After a year with the Harfangs, Grand-Pierre played for the QMJHL's Val d'Or Foreurs. During four seasons of junior hockey, Grand Pierre spent 548 minutes in the box during 230 games. Describing Grand-Pierre's years in the junior, the NHL Web site reported, "This aggressive defenseman would do anything to keep the puck out of his team's zone."

Played All Over the Ice

Grand-Pierre was picked up by the NHL's St. Louis Blues in 1995 as a seventh-round entry draft pick, making him the 179th overall pick. In 1996 he was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres with their second-round entry-draft pick to play for the Sabres or its American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate team, the Rochester Americans. Still, Grand-Pierre continued with the semi-pro Foreurs until the end of the 1996-97 season.

Grand Pierre played the entire 1997-98 season with the Americans, and on December 3, 1997, he scored his first goal as a professional. Grand-Pierre enjoyed a remarkable first season in the AHL, earning a spot in the league's All-Star game. He won the event's fastest-skater challenge and came in second for the hardest shot, blasting the puck in the net at 95 mph. After 75 games the defenseman tallied four goals, six assists, and 211 penalty minutes for the Americans.

During the 1998-99 season, Grand-Pierre skated in 55 games for the Americans, contributing five goals, four assists and 90 minutes in the box. The Sabres moved him from the Americans' roster for his debut in the NHL on February 19, 1999. He recorded his first NHL point, an assist, on March 23, 1999. Finishing out the season as a Sabre, he registered 17 penalty minutes in 16 games. Though he was added to the Sabres' playoff roster as a kind of defenseman injury-insurance, he did not skate any playoff minutes and did not contribute ice-time to the Sabres' win of the Eastern conference title. The Sabres lost to the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup finals. Grand-Pierre admitted to McGourty, "I wished I could have helped [the Sabres] out or helped the Americans."

The following season, 1999-2000, Buffalo management split him between the Sabres and Americans. In 15 Sabres' contests, he was scoreless with 15 penalty minutes. In 55 Americans games, he recorded five goals, four assists, and 90 minutes in the box. His defensive checking and enforcing played a part in the Americans earning its spot at the Calder Cup finals.

Before the 2000-01 season, Grand-Pierre was acquired by the expansion team the Columbus Blue Jackets. On November 9, 2000, against the San Jose Sharks, Grand-Pierre scored his first points for the Blue Jackets, tallying one goal and one assist. He ended the season with one goal, four assists, and 73 box minutes in 64 games. Blue Jackets coach Dave King told McGourty in February of 2001, " [Grand-Pierre]'s a young player with very good work ethic.... He gives us a strong physical presence on the ice and is very aggressive when he goes after the puck."

Grand-Pierre continued to improve his game with the Blue Jackets during the 2001-02 season. On January 16, 2002, against the New York Rangers, he skated 25:09 minutes, his pro-career high. In 81 regular season games, he tallied two goals, six assists, and 90 penalty minutes. Grand-Pierre faced injuries during the 2002-03 season, missing seven games in December for a sprained knee and another 15 games the following month for an orbital fracture. That year he registered one goal and 64 penalty minutes in 41 games as a Blue Jacket. After his injuries, he was moved to Columbus's minor-league team, the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, for which he played two games, scoring one goal and sitting in the box six minutes.

The 2003-04 season was eventful for Grand-Pierre. He entered the season as a Blue Jacket with 213 NHL games under his belt, and a reputation as one of the league's most ardent enforcers. Yet the defenseman was moved to forward, playing right-wing for the first 22 games of the season. On December 5, 2003, he was sent down to the Crunch, then recalled to the Blue Jackets by December 16. He had only registered 12 penalty minutes in 16 games as a Blue Jacket and one assist and eight penalty minutes in four games with the Crunch before he was put on waivers and acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers on December 31, 2003. He made his Thrashers debut playing against his hometown Montreal Canadiens on January 3, 2004. Moved back to defense, he scored a goal against the Boston Bruins on February 3, during a game in which he set his career high in ice-time, 27 minutes.

The Thrashers put him on pre-trade-deadline waiver, and Grand-Pierre was acquired by the last-place Washington Capitals on March 9, 2004. Moved to forward, he played in every game for the rest of the regular season. Capitals head coach Glen Hanlon called the move of Grand-Pierre to forward an "experiment" to see how to fit the team together for the 2004-05 season.

The TSN Web site's scouting report concluded that by the end of the 2004 season, Grand- Pierre's greatest assets were his size, speed, and ability to "play either along the blueline or as an imposing winger." However, the report suggested that Grand-Pierre "Needs to fine-tune his overall game. Must gain more experience and improve his hockey sense in order to earn more ice time."

Encouraged Youth Hockey

In 2002, Grand-Pierre served as the honorary host for the seventh-annual Willie O'Ree All-Star Weekend, a youth hockey event that promotes diversity in ice hockey and honors the NHL's first black player, Willie O'Ree. "I think there will be more black players coming to hockey," Grand-Pierre told Curtright. "It's a great sport to play."

During his professional career, Grand-Pierre has also donated time and energy to Ice Hockey in Harlem (IHIH), a non-profit, after-school program for kids in Harlem, New York. IHIH's free services include ice and classroom sessions. While centered on ice hockey, the training is also designed to fine-tune their skills in math, social studies, and literacy, as well as to promote responsibility and discipline. Participants develop ice hockey dexterity while growing up with the program and at age 14 are invited to try out for the Harlem Rangers travel team.

In 2004, Grand-Pierre was engaged to be married to Roseann Koch. In an online forum on the NHL Web site, he told fans that he shared his home with his pet cat, Minnie. He also told fans that the player he would most like to see as a spectator and most like to play against is Jaromir Jagr. Asked which superpower he'd like to have, Grand-Pierre responded, "The ability to fly." As one of the NHL's speediest skaters, Grand-Pierre has already enjoyed a high-flying NHL career.

Further Reading

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 4, 2004; January 20, 2004. Sports Illustrated, October 4, 1999; December 15, 2003. Washington Post, March 22, 2004.

On-line

"Columbus Blue Jackets: Fan Center," Blue Jackets, www.bluejackets.com/fans/qa/index.php?guest_id=17 (May 4, 2004).

Ice Hockey in Harlem, www.icehockeyinharlem.org/site/document.php?id=3 (May 6, 2004).

"Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre," TSN.ca: Canada's Sports Leader, www. tsn.ca/nhl/teams/player_bio.asp?player_name=Jean-Luc+Grand- Pierre&hubName=WSH (May 4, 2004).

"Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre," Washington Capitals, www.washingtoncapitals.com/team/plyrbio.cfm?player_id=81424 (May 4, 2004). NHL.com, www.nhl.com (May 4, 2004).

– Melissa Walsh