When veteran SHL defenseman Ed Francis decided last season to sign a minor-league deal with the New York Night rather than retiring, he said he hadn’t “gotten the game out of [his] blood”. He chose to stay in the game while keeping alive his slim hopes of making it back to the SHL.
Francis’ time in Utah has proved to be unexpectedly eventful. On the bright side, he recorded his first-ever hat trick last season. The downside came this week, when the 30-year-old blueliner suffered a grotesque leg injury that ended his season and, he announced, his career as well.
Last Saturday, Francis and the Night faced off against the Minnesota Freeze. With about six minutes left in the third period, Minnesota began an odd-man rush. Francis pursued Freeze C Tanner Everest, who carried the puck across the blue line. Everest faked a pass to LW Henry Van Alpin, then skated hard toward the net. Francis threw himself to the ice in an effort to block the shot, but in doing so he caught Everest’s left skate. The towering center tangled with Francis and went down in a heap. They shot past the goal and slammed hard into the boards.
After a brief moment of disorientation, Everest rose up and skated away. Francis, however, remained crumpled against the boards. When the defenseman did try to move, he immediately noticed something disconcerting: “My leg was pointing the wrong way.”
Replays of the incident would show what happened: Francis’ right skate caught the ice just shy of the boards, and Everest’s full weight rammed into it. This caused the Utah blueliner’s lower leg to shatter.
Several Owls teammates came over to help Francis up, but he waved them away. “I could already tell something was really wrong,” Francis said.
Owls trainer Carey Clarkson rushed out to aid the fallen Francis. As soon as he saw the defenseman’s right leg, he immediately waved for the stretcher. “I could see the bone pressed up against the skin,” said Clarkson later. “I was trying not to throw up on the ice.”
The arena fell silent as the fans recognized the severity of the injury. Francis was hustled off the ice and to the nearest hospital, where surgeons quickly went to work reducing the swelling and reconstructing the bones in Francis’ leg.
Thanks to the quick work of the surgical team, Francis was stabilized and his leg was saved. However, the surgeon informed him that while he should be able to walk unaided eventually, his odds of being able to play hockey again at a competitive level are virtually zero.
After discussing the situation with his family, Francis officially announced that he will be retiring. “Obviously, this isn’t the way I wanted to go out,” said a visibly emotional Francis. “But I’m not bitter. The way I think about it, I consider myself fortunate that I had the chance to play the sport I love and get paid. With the love and support of my family and God’s blessing, I will focus on my recovery. After that, I can figure out the next chapter in my life.”
Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie spoke admiringly of Francis’ courage and his mentorship of Utah’s younger players. “If anyone has the strength – on the inside and the outside – to recover from something like this, it’s Easy Eddie,” said Kiyotie. “The entire Owls organization will be in Eddie’s corner as he goes through this. And if he feels like coaching is something he wants to do later on, he’s always got a spot on my staff. He’s been an unofficial coach of sorts these last couple seasons, and I’ve been grateful for his help.”