Emile Francis died at the age of 95; Rebuild NHL’s Rangers as Coach and GM

Emile Francis, a battle-scarred goalkeeper who played little for the lower-tier Rangers teams before rebuilding the franchise as coach and general manager in a half-century hockey career of the Hall of Fame, passed away Saturday. He was 95 years old.

Rangers announced his death but did not say where he died.

While playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan, Francis was known as the Cat for his quick reflexes in front of goal. But he only played in 95 games of the National Hockey League, with the Chicago Black Hawks and Rangers. He finds his niche behind the bench and in the office, with Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers.

He was mostly a one-man operation with the Rangers as their general manager from 1964 to 1976 and their coach for most of that time. He set a Ranger training record that still stands in most games (654) and most wins (342). His career win percentage (.602) is highest only by Mike Keenan, who hit the .667 mark in his only season with the Rangers, as he led them to the Stanley Cup championship 1994.

Francis is also an innovator in the design of goalkeeper equipment.

Having played baseball as a teenager, he took his first basketball glove — a model endorsed by the Yankees’ George McQuinn — and attached a hockey-style cuff to it. He first used it in goal while playing hockey and later introduced it to the NHL along with the Black Hawks. It worked more easily than regular goalkeeper gloves, a regular five-finger hockey model with a small amount of padding, and goalkeepers around the league soon copied his creation. .

“The gloves were on the market within a month,” he told NHL.com in a 2016 interview, recalls how manufacturers, including Rawlings, have been able to sell them under their brand names ever since. “I don’t have a patent because I don’t even know what a patent is.”

Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as the “builder” of the game in 1982 and received the Lester Patrick Trophy that year for his contributions to hockey in the United States.

Francis coached stars such as goalkeeper Eddie Giacomin, forwards Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert, and full-back Brad Park. When he’s been behind the bench for all or part of nine consecutive seasons, his teams have won regular season records and consistently made it to the knockout stages. But his only visit to the Stanley Cup final as Rangers coach was in 1972, when the team lost to the Boston Bruins, four draws two.

Standing 5 feet 6 and weighing 145 pounds, Francis is a fierce figure walking behind the Rangers bench, two L-shaped scars on his chin from his goalkeeping days proving his toughness. In 19 seasons playing in junior hockey, minor leagues and the NHL, he broke his nose multiple times, required more than 200 stitches and lost a lot of teeth. So he didn’t hesitate about praising his Rangers when he felt they weren’t playing smart and aggressive hockey. A sign he posted in their dressing room reads, “We provide everything but guts.”

He told The New York Times in 1967. “Ninety percent of the time that wins is desire.” You have to keep pushing, pushing to create lust, to make some people realize the importance of each. match. ”

Emile Percy Francis was born on September 13, 1926 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. His father died when he was 8 years old. His mother, Yvonne Francis, maintained the household during the Depression, and an uncle who played for the senior hockey team taught Emile the game.

As Francis told it, he got his nickname during the 1945-46 season, when a sports journalist was impressed by his play in goal for the Saskatchewan Children’s Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Canucks. wrote that he was “fast as a cat”.

Francis joined the NHL’s Black Hawks midway through the 1946-47 season and played 73 games with them over two seasons.

He was traded to Rangers in October 1948, but only appeared in 22 games over the next four seasons as a fill-in. Chuck Rayner, future goalkeeper of the Hall of Fame. He spent most of those seasons playing for the New Haven and Cincinnati teams of the American Hockey League, then returned to juniors and retired after the 1959-60 season.

After coaching in the Rangers’ minor league organization, Francis was appointed their assistant general manager in 1962 and general manager in October 1964. He took over a franchise that had not yet won a championship. Stanley Cup since 1940 and has not finished first in six leagues since 1942.

Francis’ first two Ranger teams missed the knockout stages. But his frenzy was revealed early in the 1965 season during a game against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden, when he lunged from his seat to curse the goal umpire, who signaled that a the ball passed Giacomin to score. Francis got into a fight with a fan sitting near the goal umpire, and at least eight Rangers players climbed into the stands to defend him.

Two weeks later, Francis fired his coach, Red Sullivan. Moving to the back of the bench, he offered some order to the seemingly chaotic ice presence, setting models for his skaters to follow.

“This is the first time we’ve had a system where we know where the other players are on the ice,” Harry Howell, a longtime Ranger guard, told The Times during the 1967-68 season.

While still serving as superintendent, Francis gave up his coaching duties three times – to Bernie Geoffrion in 1968, Larry Popein in 1973 and Ron Stewart in 1975 – but he was behind the bench for all or part of 10 seasons, hitting an overall record of 342-209-103.

Francis caused outrage among Ranger fans when he released Giacomin, a huge fan favorite, on October 31, 1975. The Detroit Red Wings announced him and he played for them at the Garden two nights later, inspiring fan acclaim “Kill the cat.”

Giacomin was brought on to replace John Davidson. A week later, in the All-Stars . swapFrancis traded Park and Ratelle for the Bruins in a multiplayer deal for center Phil Esposito and defensive player Carol Vadnais.

Francis was fired from his position as general manager in January 1976 and replaced by John Ferguson, a former Canadian winger. Ferguson also took over as manager, replacing Stewart.

Francis became general manager and coach of St. Louis Blues during the 1976-77 season, when he brought them to the finish line at number one, and he remained with the organization until 1983. He was the Whalers senior executive (now stormy). Carolina) from 1983 to 1993; The team made it to the knockout stages for most of his tenure.

His survivors include his sons, Bobby, who coached the NHL’s Phoenix (now Arizona) hedgehog team for five seasons and received the Jack Adams Award as a top coach. league leader in 2002, and Rick, former vice president of marketing and sales for the Whalers, as well as three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His wife, Emma, ​​passed away in 2020.

When Francis took control of Rangers, he wanted players known for their toughness.

He lured Geoffrion, a former star of Montreal Canada, into retirement to play two seasons for the Rangers before working as his coach with them. As Geoffrion said in an interview with the Times in March 1967, Francis made sure that Rangers no longer had “an inferiority complex.”

Gilbert, the high scoring wing, marvels at how Francis can lose his temper behind the bench but remains in control.

As he said, “I’ve seen Emile change contours while he’s fighting.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/20/sports/hockey/emile-francis-dead.html Emile Francis died at the age of 95; Rebuild NHL’s Rangers as Coach and GM

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