RONNIE FRANCHISE | Joined Hockey’s Hall of Fame
Ron Francis, who spent his 23-year NHL career playing in small markets overshadowed by higher-profile players, got his due Monday night when he entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2007.
In a ceremony in Toronto, Francis joined players Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and NHL executive Jim Gregory as the newest members of the Hall. Some are calling it the best class of entries into the Hall of Fame in decades. Francis’ inclusion only raises the bar. Now serving as the Carolina Hurricanes’ assistant general manager, Francis finished his career as the 4th-leading scorer in NHL history, behind three of the most recognizable names in the game’s history: Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Messier, who like Francis, retired in 2004.
Among Francis’ other achievements:
– he played in 1,731 career regular-season games, 3rd-most in history
– his 1,249 career assists are 2nd only to Wayne Gretzky
– he won Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, serving as captain for the team for the second Cup
– he won three Lady Byng trophies as the league’s most gentlemanly player and a Selke Trophy as best defensive forward, along with the 2002 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contributions off the ice
– he had 20 20-goal seasons, tied with Howe for the most in the NHL
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled about it,” Francis said about his entry into the Hall. “I got the phone call that day, and as excited as you are and as proud as you are to get that call to go into the Hall of Fame… When they start telling you who you’re going in with, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis, and even a guy like Jim Gregory, whom I’ve known for a lot of years in the game…what a great bunch of guys and awesome group of hockey players to go into with…
“I was really excited. Obviously you know that that’s the day, and there is a possibility, and you’re hoping to get that phone call. But nonetheless, I don’t think you’re ever ready for it. When they called to tell me, I was extremely excited and thrilled that they felt that my career was worthy of entering such an elite group of guys in such a special place in hockey.”
Francis was drafted by the Hartford Whalers and played parts of 10 seasons with the team before being shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline in 1991. After winning Cups those first two seasons there, he played with the team until 1998, when he was signed as a 35-year-old free agent by the Carolina Hurricanes, which had moved to Greensboro from Hartford. His acquisition was seen as a step to legitimize the new team, but even then – despite the accolades, the Stanley Cups, the awards – Francis still wasn’t well known to many people in the league. Heck, hockey wasn’t well known in this part of the country…but not for long.
“That was part of the interest in my wanting to come to Carolina,” he told NHL.com, “to teach the game and sell the game in a non-hockey market. I think this organization has done a real good job bringing in guys who are character guys who care about not only the success of the organ on the ice, but in the community. I think that more than anything has helped solidify our situation in Raleigh. I learned from Day 1 the fans here are very passionate about their sports and it was just a matter of getting them passionate in our sport.”
As the Hurricanes improved and moved to their new home in Raleigh, Francis became the captain (as he was for Hartford and Pittsburgh) and leader, and in 2002 led the team into the Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings. It was Francis who scored a goal less than a minute into overtime in Game 1 in Detroit, giving the team its greatest historical moment to date. The Red Wings won the series, 4-1, but by that time – with Francis, having passed the 500-goal mark and 1,500-point plateau – he was beginning to be appreciated around the league.
His career ended with a trade to Toronto for one final run at another Stanley Cup, but the Leafs were bounced in the second round of the playoffs. The Hurricanes considered bringing Francis back as a player following the lockout of 2004-05, but instead ultimately hired him as director of player development. His jersey – #10 – was retired in January 2006 and Francis became the right-hand man to General Manager Jim Rutherford earlier this fall when Jason Karmanos left as assistant general manager.
Francis wasn’t a part of the 2006 Hurricanes organization that won the Cup, but his fingerprints were all over that team…and he figures to be a part of the organization for a long time to come.
Here’s a video collection of some of Francis’ career highlights: