Monday, August 06, 2012

Absurd Goalie Monday: Emile Francis

While last instalment had the last of a breed, this week's AGM was the first of a breed in equipment. Not only did he get fed up with what he had, he was surprised at the outcry against it to begin with. He stuck by his guns and was able to help get it worked into the goalie lexicon, which I'm sure many of the goalie fraternity are indebted for. This week, the profile of Emile Francis.

Francis first started his journey with the North Battleford Beavers in the North Saskatchewan Junior League in the 1941-42 season, playing in four games, all losses. The 1942-43 season had Francis play eight games with North Battleford (no record given).

A move east is what happened next for Francis, as he would join the Philadelphia Falcons for the 1943-44 season, playing in 14 games in the Eastern League, while he would spend the 1944-45 season with the Washington Lions in the same league, taking home league MVP honors for his stellar play in the 35 games there.

Francis was called for military duty, but would play the 1945-46 season back in the Saskatchewan Junior League, this time the South Division playing for the Moose Jaw Canucks and going 18-0-0 in 18 games, helping the Canucks move to the Memorial Cup, where he would go 4-4 in eight games of tournament play. Francis also spent time with the Regina Capitals, though he would play only one game with them.

Francis would be in Regina for the start of the 1946-47 season, but with a bit of a newer look. During the end of the 1945-46 season, Francis took a piece of his other favorite sport-- baseball-- and worked into the hockey lexicon, but using a first baseman's mitt and adding a wide cuff to it as a catching glove rather than using the same gloves his teammates wore. It helped Francis that next season in Regina, playing in 32 games, while then getting picked up by the Chicago Blackhawks, playing in 19 games and finishing with a 6-12-1 record.

The bulk of the 1947-48 season, Francis played with the Blackhawks-- posting a 18-31-5 record in 54 games, but he would also spend time with the Kansas City Pla-mors of the USHL-- going 3-2-2 in seven appearances.

Before the 1948-49 campaign, Francis was traded with Alex Kaleta to the New York Rangers for Jim Henry. Francis would only spend two games with the Rangers that season (2-0-0) and spend the bulk of his time in the AHL with the New Haven Ramblers, finishing with a 15-27-7 record in 49 appearances. The 1949-50 season had Francis back in New Haven, playing in 68 games and putting up a record of 22-36-10; all while losing the only game he played for the Rangers that season.

The Rangers changed AHL affiliation in the 1950-51 season to the Cincinnati Mohawks, where Francis would put up a 20-26-7 record in 53 games, while going 1-1-2 in five appearances for the Rangers. The 1951-52 season was much better for Francis in Cincinnati, as he would go 24-22-5 in 51 games and then 3-3 in six playoff appearances; as well as going 4-7-3 in 14 games for the Rangers.

Francis moved to the WHL in the 1952-53 season, playing of the Vancouver Canucks for 70 games, posting a 32-28-10 record, then going 4-5 in nine playoff games. For the 1953-54 season, Francis left the WHL and signed onto the AHL's Cleveland Barons, going 37-28-0 in 65 games and went 7-2 in the playoffs, as the Barons won the Calder Cup. Francis returned to Cleveland for the 1954-55 season, putting up a 28-26-3 record in 57 games and then 1-2 in three playoff games.

With the 1955-56 season, Francis would return to the WHL, but with the Saskatoon Quakers-- where he would go 27-33-8 in 68 games and 0-3 in the playoffs. Francis moved out west to the Seattle Americans in the 1956-57 season, posting a 35-26-7 record and 2-4 in six playoff games. The Victoria Cougars took Francis's services for the 1957-58 season, where he finished with an 18-47-2 record in 67 games. For the 1958-59 and 1959-60 season, Francis was playing for the Spokane Spokes, going 25-37-6 (1-3 in the playoffs) and 19-46-3 in those respective years. Francis was also loaned out to the Seattle Totems for a game in the 1959-60 season, winning that game. After that season, Francis would retire from playing.

Francis didn't stay away from the game long, as he would be the head coach of the OHA's Guelph Royals before the New York Rangers would hire him as head coach from the 1965-66 season until the 1974-75 season and would coach the St. Louis Blues in the 1976-77 season and parts of the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons, finishing his coaching career with a 388-277-117 record. Francis was also the GM of the Blues from 1976 until 1983 and GM of the Hartford Whalers from 1983 until 1989.

Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1982 and has a trophy named after him in the AHL for the champion of the North Division.

While his NHL career lasted only 95 games, the innovation he brought to the goaltending position was a great leap forward and probably staved of injury for future generations coming up through the ranks. Add that to his ability to work in the front office, Franics's legacy stretched out further than his playing career could have imagined.

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