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Ex-associates stunned about Ramage

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published December 21, 2003

TAMPA - Lightning founder Phil Esposito called Rob Ramage "a good man." Former Tampa Bay right wing John Tucker called him "a great guy."

That is why Ramage's situation is so difficult for them to get their heads around.

Ramage, who Esposito claimed in the expansion draft and played 66 games in Tampa Bay's inaugural season, was charged last week with impaired driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death in the wreck that killed former Blackhawks player and coach Keith Magnuson.

The charges carry a maximum life sentence.

Ramage was driving Magnuson back to Toronto from nearby Bolton, Ontario, where they attended the funeral of NHL Alumni Association chairman Keith McCreary. Police said Ramage's car drifted into oncoming traffic and was hit almost head-on by an SUV.

Ramage suffered a broken leg. He is free on $100,000 bail and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said he will be allowed to return to his St. Louis home when he leaves the hospital.

"Just a positive guy and great with the young guys," Tucker said Saturday. "He was a great teacher and a leader for the young guys. He treated us well that first year when we were a little green behind the ears."

"He was a hell of a defenseman," Esposito said. "He was strong, he could fight and he could shoot."

Esposito said Ramage, who had five goals, 17 points and 138 penalty minutes for the Lightning, was the model of a team player. He said when Manon Rheaume, the first woman to play in an NHL game, made her debut in goal against the Blues, Ramage set the tone.

"He wouldn't let anyone go near her on the ice," Esposito said. "He said, "Nobody rushes the net. We don't let them.' And he took care of the young guys. He was great with the young guys."

"There was just a lot of real positives in his life," said Tucker, who reconnected with Ramage through their work with the NHL Alumni Association. "It's an awful, terrible thing that's happened. I'm at a loss for words."

STUNNING ST. LOUIS: You might never see a better individual effort than Martin St. Louis' short-handed goal that tied the score at 1 with 5:49 remaining in the second period.

The right wing picked up the puck at the red line and stormed down the left side. Halfway through the offensive zone, he cut to his right and faked as if he was about to shoot. Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov took the bait. St. Louis pulled the puck back and sped past Zubov who was turned around.

St. Louis, facing goalie Marty Turco one-on-one, cut back to the left, put the puck on his forehand and scored his eighth goal and third in two games.

But St. Louis was too disappointed about his effort on the Lightning's 0-for-7 power play to take any credit.

"Yeah," he said of the goal, "but our power play has to be the deciding factor. That's the bottom line."

WILLIS WATCH: Two more games for Shane Willis or another nine days on the roster and the right wing must clear waivers to be sent to the minors.

Players called up from the minors can be sent down without waivers if they play fewer than 10 games or spend fewer than 30 days on the roster. Willis has played eight games and has been on the roster 21 days since being called up Dec. 1 from AHL Hershey.

Willis, who has five assists and is plus-1, was a healthy scratch in consecutive games, but general manager Jay Feaster said that has nothing to do with the transaction rules.

"While I am mindful of those dates and parameters, it has not influenced playing time decisions," Feaster said.

Feaster and coach John Tortorella said they thought Willis' game dipped Tuesday against the physical Maple Leafs and Tortorella sat him against the equally physical Flyers.

As for Saturday, Willis said he did not expect the coach to change a winning lineup.

"The main thing for me is to be ready for the next opportunity to go in and play well again," Willis said.

TALK, TALK: Player-coach conversations usually don't cause a stir. But when Tortorella and left wing Fredrik Modin had a sometimes animated 15-minute talk during the morning skate, it was tough not to notice.

"Just discussing what we're doing for Christmas," Modin said with a smile.

"I want Mo to shoot," Tortorella said. "That's what that conversation was about. And he's not too crazy about the ice time he has been getting in some prior games."

Entering Saturday, Modin had 49 shots, fifth-best on the team and 42 fewer than leader Brad Richards. He was averaging 16:03 of ice time but played less in seven games before Thursday's victory over the Flyers.

Tortorella said he had no problem with Modin showing displeasure.

"I want players to argue for their ice time," he said.

"It shows they care."

SCRATCHES: Defenseman Darren Rumble and right wing Shane Willis were scratched. It was the second consecutive scratch for Willis. Tortorella said Willis' game dipped Tuesday against the physical Maple Leafs. And he sat against the equally physical Flyers. Willis said he did not expect the coach to change a winning lineup for the game against the Stars.

[Last modified December 21, 2003, 01:16:22]

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