Friday, June 29, 2007

Francis to glide into Hall of Fame

By Luke DeCock, Staff Writer
News & Observer
June 29, 2007

Ron Francis went through his career as one of the most underappreciated players of his generation. He was also one of the most productive.
When the Hockey Hall of Fame selected him for membership Thursday, it honored the latter while correcting, once and for all, the former.

Francis, 44, will be inducted Nov. 12 in one of the Hall's strongest classes, joining Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and longtime league executive Jim Gregory.

The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, played 16 of his 23 seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes franchise, leading them to the Stanley Cup finals as captain in 2002. Francis was at home in North Raleigh when he got the news.

"Obviously, it was a very special phone call I received today," Francis said. "As a kid growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, I dreamed of playing in the NHL and holding the Stanley Cup over my head. But never did I expect to accomplish this."

The team's former captain and most popular player, Francis delivered a jolt of credibility to the Hurricanes a year after they moved to North Carolina by becoming the first marquee free agent to sign with the team in the summer of 1998.

"Coming to Carolina back when I did, a lot of people looked at me funny, but it was everything I hoped it would be," Francis said. "It's a wonderful area with a lot to offer."

Ron Francis (center) proudly holds the 2002 Wales trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champions.

The team honored Francis in January 2006 by raising his No. 10 jersey to the rafters at the RBC Center. He has now gained the ultimate acclaim from the hockey world.

Francis will become the Hurricanes' second Hall of Fame member. Broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was inducted into the Hall's media wing in 2004. Paul Coffey, who also was inducted in 2004, played parts of three seasons for the Hartford/Carolina franchise.

Francis' NHL statistics are impeccable. He ranks second -- Wayne Gretzky is first -- in assists with 1,249, third in games played with 1,731 and fourth in points with 1,798. Only Gordie Howe and Francis posted 22 consecutive seasons with 50 or more points.

"You bring up Ronnie's name and what comes to mind is a complete player," MacInnis said. "He was one of a handful of players where a coach would look down the bench and you could put him in any situation at any time."

He also won the Lady Byng Trophy three times for sportsmanship and gentlemanly play, the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward and the King Clancy Trophy honoring community service during his career.

He began his career in 1981 with the Hartford Whalers, the franchise that later became the Hurricanes. He spent 10 seasons with Hartford before a midseason trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991. He won the Stanley Cup twice with the Penguins, in 1991 and 1992.

"Ronnie left a lasting impact on the Penguins organization," said current Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, a member of the Hall of Fame and a teammate of Francis' in Pittsburgh.

"Not only because of his exceptional talent and ability to play both ends of the ice, but because of his dedication, his professionalism and his dignity."

Francis remains the Hartford/Carolina career leader in games played (1,186), goals (382), assists (793), points (1,175), hat tricks (nine) and power-play goals (132). He led the Hurricanes to the playoffs three times as captain, literally butting heads with Stevens in 2001 when Stevens knocked him out of the playoffs with a concussion.

Francis got his revenge a year later, beating Stevens to the net to score the goal that eliminated the New Jersey Devils.

"His unselfishness on the ice is what you respect the most," Stevens said. "He was one of the smartest players I ever played against."

Francis ended his career on the ice with the Toronto Maple Leafs, seeking one last shot at the Cup with a deadline deal in 2004. He now works in the Hurricanes' front office.

"No one's surprised, but once it happens, you just feel proud to be a small part of his career," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said.

Staff writer Luke DeCock can be reached at 829-8947 or

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