As a three-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded for gentlemanly conduct on the ice, Ron Francis didn’t break many rules during his 23 seasons in the NHL.
Francis couldn’t resist a little infraction Thursday when informed around lunch that he had been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Francis, along with fellow player inductees Mark Messier, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis, was told to keep the news secret until a 3:30 p.m. media teleconference. However, Francis picked up the telephone to call his parents.
|| David Droschak |
“I guess I broke that rule,” said Francis, who was elected to the Hall with one of the most impressive classes ever.
Francis, fourth all-time with 1,798 points, became the first player from the Carolina Hurricanes to reach the pinnacle of his sport. Francis won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh before leaving the Steel City to head South in 1998, signing a lucrative free agent contract with a franchise that was one year removed from Hartford.
Francis soon became one of the most popular sports figures in the Triangle and led the Hurricanes to the Cup finals in 2002. His No. 10 has been retired and hangs from the rafters of the RBC Center, and he now works for the team, developing the franchise’s young talent.
“People looked at me a little funny when I came to Carolina back then,” Francis said. “But it was everything I had hoped it would be. The people are so friendly. The bad thing is the secret is out and there is a huge influx of people moving here. I’ve been treated great here over the years and I couldn’t be prouder of the area.”
Francis wasn’t much of a secret as a youth hockey talent, as he was the fourth overall pick by the Hartford Whalers in the 1981 draft and soon became a fixture on the ice as a teenager. He recalled his first training camp Thursday.
“I remember a guy in our lineup by the name of Dave Keon who I grew up admiring, and Gordie Howe was still around and would come out and screw around with us at practice. To be on the same sheet of ice with those guys was quite a feeling.”
Francis is from the steel town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, a place that also produced Phil and Tony Esposito, and former Carolina coach Paul Maurice. Francis played for a team called the Greyhounds, a fitting name since the 6-foot-3 Francis was smooth on the ice with great passing skills and game awareness.
“The phone call I received today was very special,” Francis said. “As a kid I dreamed of playing in the NHL and had visions of holding the Stanley Cup over my head, but I never thought I would be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
“Anybody who was born in Canada grew up extremely proud of their hockey heritage and it’s a huge part of Canada,” he added. “I can’t tell you how important it is to me to be able to walk into the hall of fame as a Canadian. It will be a thrill and something I’m very proud of.”
The lanky Francis finished his more than two-decade NHL career second all-time in assists and third all-time in games played. His point total trails just Howe, Messier and Wayne Gretzky.
He was the captain of both the Whalers and Hurricanes during different stints, and his leadership skills and work ethic helped make many of his fellow players better.
The tape-to-tape passing skills of Francis often drove defensemen crazy, especially on the power play, where he often excelled -- either down low or at the point.
“Ron was a great playmaker,” said Stevens, who knocked Francis out of one playoff game in Raleigh with a vicious hit that both chuckled about Thursday. “His unselfishness on the ice is what you saw the most. He would much rather set somebody else up and he always put the team first. He was also so good on draws. He was one of the smartest playe I ever played against, much like Wayne Gretzky.”
MacInnis didn’t play against Francis as much at Stevens because he was in the Western Conference, but admired Francis from afar and marveled at his overall skills.
“There have only been a handful of players in NHL history where the coach could look down the bench and put him in at any time – whether you needed a goal late in a game, you were on the power play, killing off a penalty or needed a key face-off. Ron was that type of player.”
Ron’s special day will come on Nov. 12, when he the rest of the class of 2007 will be officially inducted, his place in hockey lore secure, his value to the game as a class individual and heady player honored at the highest level.
Take a bow Ron, wave to your fans one more time. There is no one to pass to this time. The fame is pointed directly at you, and nobody deserves it more than No. 10.
Congrats Ron from everyone in the Carolina Hurricanes organization.
David Droschak is the former sports editor for the North Carolina bureaus of the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering organization in the world. In 2003, Droschak was named the North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year. The only writer in the Triangle to have covered the Carolina Hurricanes every season since the organization moved to North Carolina, he currently is a principal in the Raleigh-based public relations firm Hughes-Droschak Communications.