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LeGrand taking a liking to playoff hockey

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Wearing a neutral white shirt, showing no favoritism to the Rangers or the Devils, Eric LeGrand was just happy to have parked his motorized wheelchair in the area behind Section 17 at Prudential Center to catch some playoff hockey.

LeGrand, the former Rutgers University football player, became paralyzed on the field on Oct. 16, 2010. He is working hard in his recovery and in the meantime is, in his own words, "starting to become a die-hard hockey fan."

The New Jersey native has attended regular-season and playoff games at Madison Square Garden, but Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was his first at Prudential Center.

"I am a Jersey guy, so I have to pull for the Devils a little bit," LeGrand told as the Devils and Rangers went through pre-game warmups behind him. "But, you know, I just want to see a good game out here."

LeGrand didn't start attending hockey games until late this season. He was in attendance at the Garden for Game 7 of the Rangers-Capitals series.

"That game, whew, intense man," he said smiling.

LeGrand, whose girlfriend is from Vancouver and is a fan of the Canucks, said he's become a fan of the game because of the athleticism and the intensity. He said he admires Devils goalie Martin Brodeur for still being at the top of his game at 40 years old, and Rangers center Brian Boyle his physical play.

"The way they can fly around and stop on a dime, if you watch it on TV you're like, 'Oh, that's alright,' but when you come in person it's a whole other level," he said. "I respect hockey so much now. They get checked into the boards and stop on a dime, pucks slapped at them 100 miles per hour. This is a tough sport. I love hockey."

He likes playoff hockey even more.

"The towels come out, everybody is getting involved, it's just such an electrifying atmosphere," LeGrand said. "I can only imagine being a player in playoffs like this. It's amazing when you just see the towels flying around and when you score it's that much louder."

LeGrand still has a ways to go in his recovery, but he said it's going well now and he never forgets how much of a miracle it is that he is even in recovery mode after fracturing two vertebrae and suffering a spinal cord injury when making a tackle against Army's Malcolm Brown in a game more than 19 months ago.

He was initially told he would be a quadriplegic and would have to remain on a ventilator, but he is defying the odds.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are now coached by former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, signed LeGrand to a symbolic contract earlier this month.

"Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class," Schiano told reporters at the time the signing was announced. "This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men."

However, LeGrand, who has aspirations to be a sportscaster, now says when he does get back up on his feet he has a new goal in mind.

"Absolutely, I'm going to try to ice skate," he said. "I've never iced skated in my life. I'll try it out, though.

"It's just a miracle and I just gotta keep on believing."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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