Among the many communities he reached, among the many destinations his hockey life took him, Emile ‘The Cat’ Francis once called Vancouver his home and the Canucks his hockey team.
The legendary former NHL player, coach, and general manager and native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan died Saturday at the age of 95.
After an NHL goaltending career that saw him play just 95 games over six seasons, the last three-plus with the New York Rangers ending in 1952, Francis continued his netminding career in the minor leagues for nine more years.
The very next season after New York he showed up in Vancouver, playing 70 games for the Canucks in the Western Hockey League. Things were a little different back then, as a goalie that season he picked up 47 penalty minutes.
Francis earned the ‘Cat’ nickname back in juniors for being ‘quick as one’ while playing for the Moose Jaw Canucks and it followed him throughout his career, even behind the bench and into the front office.
After his playing career he began his coaching career as an affiliated junior coach and then assistant with the Rangers, which led him to a career as the head coach and general manager with the club. He served as Rangers GM from 1964 to 1976. He’d move on to run the St. Louis Blues and later the Hartford Whalers.
What a life; so lucky, so crafty, so generous.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Emile Francis, who was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve had the opportunity to meet,” said Adam Graves, a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup champions and whose number hangs in the Madison Square Garden rafters. “Emile’s love for hockey and the Rangers were apparent from the moment you met him. ‘The Cat’ was one of the greatest ambassadors the Rangers have had throughout their history, and his impact on growing the game of hockey in New York will continue to live on for generations to come.”
As the New York Rangers special assistant with Prospect Development and Community Relations, Graves knows a little something about being generous with his time. His dedication to a variety of causes is well known. He credits part of his own conscientious development to Francis, as do others.
“Emile Francis had the biggest influence on my hockey career, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity he gave me, my brother, and countless kids in the New York Metropolitan Area,” Brian Mullen said.
A retired veteran of 824 NHL games followed by a career in coaching, Mullen and his Hockey Hall of Fame inductee brother Joe grew up playing ball hockey in the “Hell’s Kitchen” neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan near the old Garden. Inspired by those kids at the time, Francis started the Metropolitan Junior Hockey Association in 1966. The Rangers GM wanted to give local kids an opportunity to play hockey.
“Emile had the foresight and realization that kids he saw playing hockey on roller skates in the streets of Manhattan could play at higher levels if given the opportunity to do so on ice,” Mullen continued. “Emile’s impact in growing the game of hockey in New York and the United States cannot be overstated, and I feel so fortunate to continue what he started by helping introduce kids to hockey today. It was an honour to know Emile, and my thoughts are with his family and friends.”
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