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FEATURE: RON FRANCIS - SIMPLY THE BEST

by Staff Writer / Carolina Hurricanes

When the New England Whalers left the World Hockey Association for the National Hockey League on June 22, 1979, few people outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada knew the name Ronald Michael Francis. Now, in his 13th season with the Hurricanes - Whalers, we call him… “Ronnie Franchise.”

As well we should.

Francis played in his 900th game for the franchise last night, December 6, 2000, at Atlanta’s Philips Arena, and, as though given a nod of approval from the hockey gods, earned his 1,100th NHL career assist—two more milestones in his brilliant career. Francis is the franchise’s all time leader in games played (900), goals (313), assists (652), points (965), hat tricks (9), game-winning goals (47) and power-play goals (101). The two-time Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner (the award given to the player who exhibits the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability) even ranks 10th on the franchise’s penalty minutes list with 600—a true sign of longevity for a player as clean-playing as Francis.

MILESTONES ACHIEVED
1,400th career game (3/26/00 vs. NY Isl.)
1,300th career game (2/10/99 at Toronto)
1,200th career game (12/12/97 at Phoenix)
1,000th career game (4/16/95 at Phila.)
400th goal (3/29/97 vs. L.A.)
300th goal (1/30/93 vs. Philadelphia)
1,100th assist (12/6/00 at Atlanta)
1,000th assist (3/21/98 vs. Philadelphia)
900th assist (11/30/96 vs. Boston)
800th assist (11/1/95 vs. Tampa Bay)
1,500th point (11/5/99 at Detroit)
1,400th point (1/29/98 at Boston)
1,300th point (12/28/96 vs. Buffalo)
1,200th point (12/26/95 vs. Buffalo)
1,000th point (10/28/94 vs. Quebec)
MILESTONES WITHIN REACH
500th goal (477) *
1,600th point (1,578) *
1,000th point with franchise (965) *
* through 12/6/2000

After the 1980-81 NHL season, the renamed Hartford Whalers used their first round draft pick – fourth pick overall – on the 18-year old center of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Through 25 games of the next season, Francis led the Ontario Hockey League in points with 48 (18g, 30a) before getting the call from his NHL rights-holders to join the team.

Francis played his first game wearing a Whalers sweater on November 14, 1981, a 0-4 loss to the Washington Capitals. He played 58 more games for Hartford during the 1981-82 season, finishing with 68 points (25g, 43a), numbers that ranked him third on the team in points and assists and tied for third in goals. His mark of 43 assists during 1981-82 still stands as the franchise-best for a rookie.

On top of Francis’ records set within the pages of the Hurricanes’ record books, he has made quite a dent in the NHL’s lists as well. With his three-point (2g, 1a) performance on October 31, 2000, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Francis moved past Steve Yzerman and into sixth place on the NHL’s all-time points scorers list. Currently, he needs just 13 more points to move past the legendary Phil Esposito and into fifth place.

On that same night against Tampa Bay, Francis moved past Bernie Nicholls and into 34th place on the NHL’s all-time goals scorers list, registering his 475th and 476th tallies. Currently, Francis is only 23 goals shy of joining the elite club of players who have scored 500 or more goals during their NHL careers.

MOST CAREER POINTS *MOST CAREER ASSISTS *
RankPlayerPointsRankPlayerAssists
1Wayne Gretzky28561Wayne Gretzky1962
2Gordie Howe18502Paul Coffey1135
3Marcel Dionne17713Ray Bourque1134
4Mark Messier17434Mark Messier1104
5Phil Esposito15905RON FRANCIS1101
6RON FRANCIS15786Gordie Howe1049
7Steve Yzerman15637Marcel Dionne1040
8Ray Bourque15408Steve Yzerman936
9Paul Coffey15319Stan Mikita926
10Mario Lemieux149410Larry Murphy915
* through 12/6/2000
Francis eclipsed another milestone on October 18, 2000 when he and the Hurricanes paid a visit to Pittsburgh. On that night, he moved into 10th place on the NHL’s all-time games played list with 1,412 games. Honored before the game as part of Pittsburgh’s “Millennium Team,” Francis scored the game-winning goal against the Penguins—the team with which he spent seven seasons and won two Stanley Cups.

Along with his significant contributions to the world of hockey, Ron Francis also makes a difference to his community through organizing and participating in several charitable programs. While in Pittsburgh, Francis started the “Family Night Out” program for families of children who spend a significant amount of time in the hospital—a program he has continued in Raleigh. Francis is also heavily involved with the Special Olympics, mainly due to his younger brother, Ricky, who Ron considers his inspiration. Ricky Francis overcame a learning disability, daily seizures and a less than favorable doctor’s prognosis that he would not live past age 12, to win the gold medal in the Special Olympics downhill skiing competition. When the Special Olympics World Games visited Raleigh in 1999 Francis made celebrity appearances, signing autographs and presenting medals, and worked with athletes during the Games.

So, what lies ahead for Ron Francis? His 500th goal, 1,600th point and 1,000th point with the franchise are all within reach. Those marks aside, it seems that the one sure thing is a well-deserved, hard-earned, warm welcome into the NHL Hall of Fame.

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