|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Schuler on What Award Means to Him ||Watch |
|Francis on His Ties to Local Youth Hockey ||Watch |
|Fotiu on How Francis Helped His Career ||Watch |
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When Rangers legend Emile Francis was asked by the organization to present the first annual Emile Francis Award for dedication to youth hockey in the Tri-State area, he had no idea that he not only would be an on-ice presenter, but an award recipient himself. However, that is exactly what took place at Madison Square Garden during the first intermission of the March 27, 2008, contest between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.
|Youth hockey coach Christopher Schuler accepts the first Emile Francis Award from the longtime Rangers coach and general manager whose legacy it honors. |
After Francis had presented the award to longtime youth hockey coach Christopher Schuler of Staten Island, the Rangers organization turned the tables on Francis – as he was presented a replica of the award named in his honor by popular former Ranger Nick Fotiu, who fittingly was born and raised in Staten Island.
"Well, the Rangers pulled a fast one on me because no one told me that was going to happen," laughed Francis, a Hockey Hall-of-Famer. "But I'll get even!"
The Emile Francis Award was established by the Rangers to honor individuals who exemplify dedication to youth hockey through their passion for the game, selfless giving, and inspiration to others and their community. Fans were able to make nominations on newyorkrangers.com; and after thoroughly studying a plethora of worthy nominations, a panel of hockey experts, including members of the Rangers organization, chose Schuler as the inaugural winner of the Emile Francis Award.
"It's just overwhelming," stated Schuler. "You can never anticipate something like this. I am just one of many youth hockey coaches, and to be recognized here is just very special."
Schuler's first turn as a youth hockey coach came with the Farrell Lions Club JV back in 1982. Since then he has coached more than 1,000 youth hockey games, instilling in each of his players the deep passion he has for the sport of hockey. Joining Francis in presenting Schuler his award was one of his former players -- John Kiernan -- who today is a youth hockey coach himself.
The Emile Francis Award is named after the man who spent 22 years as a member of the New York Rangers as a goaltender, coach, and general manager. Along with his contributions to the Rangers, Francis helped pioneer the development of local youth hockey by founding the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association, which is still in operation today.
"I think of all the things that have happened to me in hockey, the proudest thing is that these kids from New York are getting a chance to play hockey, and so many have ended up in the National Hockey League," said Francis, who is known to generations of Rangers fans by his nickname, The Cat. "And I can thank Madison Square Garden for giving me the opportunity to start the league, and particularly to give these kids a chance to play."
Fotiu was once one of those young hockey players greatly influenced by the legendary Francis. The popular Staten Island native was the first New Yorker ever to play for the Blueshirts, making his debut during the 1976-77 campaign. Fotiu played in 455 games as a Ranger, and he currently ranks sixth on the club's all-time penalty minutes list with 970.
"This was very special for me, too, because I am very grateful to Emile Francis for starting the Met League and giving me a chance," Fotiu said.
Francis noted how proud he was of all the youth hockey coaches in the Tri-State area who give freely of their time. And those players who have come through the ranks, many playing in roller skates before they ever hit the ice, and made it all the way to the NHL hold a very special place in Francis' heart, as well.
"I remember the All-Star Game in Edmonton, and I looked down on the ice and saw Brian Mullen on one blueline during introductions and Joey Mullen on the other, and I was just so proud of what we had done," Francis said.