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Pens Connection Strong For 'Canes

by Joe Sager / Pittsburgh Penguins

While the Carolina Hurricanes wear red and white, there’s a strong shade of black and gold throughout their organization.

The Hurricanes have many links to the Penguins, especially in the front office, including: General Manager Jim Rutherford, Assistant General Manager Ron Francis, Goaltending Coach/Director of Goalie Development Tom Barrasso, Assistant Coach Jeff Daniels and Associate Coach Kevin McCarthy.

Rutherford, who tended goal for the Penguins from 1971-74, built the Hurricanes team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2006.

“There are a lot of fond memories in Pittsburgh. It’s been a lot of years and a lot of things have changed. People have changed and moved on,” he said. “But I will say when I go into that building and see the people there that are still there right from when the building opened, that is great. When Jack Riley comes to our games and says hello, that is really special to me. He was the GM when I played with the Penguins and was always really good to me. It’s always nice to see him.”

Selected from Detroit in the Intra-League draft in June, 1971, Rutherford joined the young Penguins franchise at age 22. He helped guide the Penguins to their second-ever playoff appearance in 1972 and finished with a 44-49-14 record and a 3.14 goals-against average in a Penguins uniform. He was traded with Jack Lynch to Detroit for Ron Stackhouse in January, 1974.

“My time in Pittsburgh was just great. I was very young when I was traded to Pittsburgh. Quite frankly, I was set back that I was traded at such a young age,” he said. “But, I just loved Pittsburgh. The people there are as friendly as I have ever seen anywhere. They really make you feel very comfortable. My three years there, I have very fond memories. I met a lot of good people. Unfortunately, I wish I could have stayed in touch with them more. I still maybe see or talk to a few of my teammates that I played with in Pittsburgh, but not on a regular basis.”

Francis, who played 16 seasons with the Hartford/Carolina franchise, re-joined the Hurricanes organization last November as the team’s director of player development and was elevated to assistant general manager this year. He will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 12 in Toronto.

“Ronnie is a great player. He’s one of the most-consistent players to ever play this game,” said Penguins scout Kevin Stevens, who played in Pittsburgh with Francis. “He’s a great defensive player and a great offensive player. Ronnie could do it all. He’s a great hockey player and I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s a great guy.”

Francis played seven full seasons in Pittsburgh after he was acquired from the Hartford Whalers on March 4, 1991. While he racked up 1,798 points in his career, his impact was more than just about goals and assists in Pittsburgh. He helped lead the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and ’92 and was named team captain in 1994-95 when Mario Lemieux sat out the season. 

“On the ice and off the ice, Ronnie was a guy you could look to – you just follow him. He’s a guy that, every game, you knew he was going to be there for you and you knew what he was going to do,” Stevens said. “He played the point on the power play and came in and took our face-offs on the power play; he killed penalties; he took all the big face-offs in our end. Ronnie was the kind of guy who could do everything really well. Usually, you have guys who do certain things well, but he did everything well. He always played well in big games, too. He was a big part of our team when we won those Stanley Cups.”

Francis racked up 613 points (164+449) in 533 regular-season games and 100 points (32+68) in 97 playoff contests in eight seasons with the Penguins. He capped his illustrious career with 1,798 points – the NHL’s fourth-highest point total. He had 549 goals and 1,249 assists in his 23-year career.

“Playing with Ronnie Francis was certainly a treat to see what he could do at both ends of the ice. He put in a lot of time and a lot of years, but he was as good the day he left as when he started,” said FSN Pittsburgh color analyst Bob Errey, who skated with Francis in Pittsburgh. “He was known as much or maybe more for his defensive abilities as much as his offensive prowess. He certainly put up some great numbers offensively, but he was as good as any defensively. He always played against the top center from the other team. He logged a ton of minutes every year, killed penalties, could play on the power play and was a great team leader. There wasn’t really much Ron Francis couldn’t do. You always knew he’d move on and stay in hockey after his hockey career. He is just one of those cerebral guys who gave a lot and still has a lot to give to the game.”

Barrasso backstopped the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cup championships. He compiled a career record of 369-277-86, with a goals-against average of 3.24 and 38 shutouts in 777 career NHL games. He ranks 13th all-time in NHL wins with 369 and, in 1997, became the first American-born goaltender to reach 300 wins. He was 61-54 with a 3.01 goals-against average and six shutouts in 119 career playoff games.

Daniels played on the 1992 Penguins Stanley Cup championship team and skated in 134 games with Pittsburgh. He had 19 points (8+11) in a Penguins uniform. McCarthy played 95 games with the Penguins between 1984 and 1985. He had 39 points (13+26) in Pittsburgh.

In addition, Hurricanes center Eric Staal is the oldest brother of Penguins star Jordan Staal. And, Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette started his coaching career in 1997-98 as head coach of the Wheeling Nailers, the Penguins’ ECHL affiliate.

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