Anyone who has visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto knows what a magical place it is. Seeing all the trophies that reside there, the special exhibits, and the list of broadcasters who are members is something special.
Imagine being one of the players to make it! To have your own plaque, knowing that you were voted in to be with the best of the best must be a humbling and amazing feeling.
This year’s players who will experience that thrill include Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al Macinnis and Ron Francis.
Francis came to the Penguins in one of the blockbuster trades that General Manager Craig Patrick was noted for pulling off. In early March of 1991, the Pens traded John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker to the Hartford Whalers for Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings.
When Francis and the others arrived in Pittsburgh the team was eight points from missing the playoffs. Every game became a do-or-die situation. But Francis and Samuelsson helped to solidify the team and just a few months later, they were raising the Stanley Cup!
On many teams, Francis would have been the star, number one center and probably captain. But on the Pens, that role was already filled by a certain #66. Francis became a star in his own right, centered the number two line and wore the ‘A’ instead of the ‘C’.
I had the pleasure of seeing many of those games during that season. What I remember most was that when Lemieux left the ice, we still stood a good chance to score and hold the other team off because #10, Ron Francis was skating. He was so steady and reliable and inspired the fans as well as his teammates. Not only was he a really good player, but during his 23 year career, he won three Lady Byng trophies for gentlemanly play.
Francis won two Cups with the Pens in his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. When he was asked just hours after finding out that he was chosen to be inducted into the Hall of Fame to name his most enduring memory, he didn’t hesitate, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Francis said it was the night of May 25, 1991, and the Pens had just wrapped up an 8-0 victory in Minnesota to clinch the first championship for the team.
He said, “I remember jumping over the boards as we were racing to the goaltender…and Paul Coffey saying, ‘As good as it seems now, it’s only going to get better with each passing day.’ And that certainly has been true. Being able to accomplish that and knowing how tough it is for a group of guys to pull together and have everything go your way and accomplish that feat, it’s certainly probably still the most special hockey moment.”
Francis is now the director of player development for the Carolina Hurricanes. He will always be remembered in Pittsburgh as one of the really good guys, who cared about the game, his teammates, the city and the fans. He was quiet, unassuming, and happy to do his part – which was no small one. He never looked for the spotlight and he was happy to be another mentor to Jaromir Jagr, who was still a young pup back then.
His former teammate, Mario Lemieux, summed it up best in the statement he released about Francis. “Ronnie left a lasting impact on the Penguins organization – not only because of his exceptional talent and ability to play both ends of the ice, but because of his dedication, his professionalism and his dignity.”
Francis will now join some of his Penguin teammates who are already in the Hall – Lemieux, Coffey, Larry Murphy, Bryan Trottier and Joe Mullen. More from those special years are sure to follow – Jagr and maybe Mark Recchi – if he ever retires! I’m already looking forward to November and seeing Ron Francis take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.
Happy Independence Day to Jan Snyder, and all of our American hockey fan friends!
Have a safe and fun Forth of July!!!
-from the folks at hockeyandhighheels.com
PS…and a happy belated Canada Day to all of our Canadian hockey fan friends!!