- On Sunday, the New York Night announced that D Ed Francis, who had been playing for their minor-league affiliate in Utah, will miss the rest of the season. The 30-year-old Francis suffered a severely broken leg during last Saturday’s game against Minnesota, an injury so severe that it required surgery to reconstruct the leg. In the wake of the injury, Francis announced that he would retire from hockey. (Story here.) To replace Francis on the roster, the Night signed D Gustaf Bergstrom for the rest of the season. Bergstrom recently played a 10-game stint in Halifax, where he recorded a goal and six assists.
- On Friday, the Washington Galaxy traded LW Casey Thurman to the Boston Badgers in exchange for LW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli, D Kermit Kaufman, and a first-round draft pick. (Story here.) In related moves, Boston demoted LW Norris Young to their CHL affiliate in Hartford and promoted D Jackson Creed from Hartford. They also signed D Gerry Michaud to a minor-league deal.
- On Friday, the Night demoted G Sherman Carter to their CHL affiliate in Utah and promoted G Corey Franklin-Lee from Utah. Carter, expected to be New York’s top starter in the next, has been atrocious so far this season. Despite compiling a 5-5-1 record, he has put up a 5.75 GAA and an .861 save percentage. The 20-year-old Franklin-Lee makes his first appearance on an SHL roster; with Utah this season, he has gone 9-4-2 with a 2.82 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
- On Saturday, the Quebec Tigres placed D Kevin Buchanan on the injured list. The veteran blueliner has been plagued by injuries this season; he missed 10 games with an upper-body injury earlier this season. It is unknown whether this latest setback, suffered in the second period of Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Hershey, is an aggravation of his prior injury or a new one. To replace Buchanan on the roster, Quebec recalled D Hampus Olsson from their CHL affiliate in Halifax. Olsson was sent down two weeks ago when Buchanan returned from his prior IL stint; he spent 9 games in the minors, recording 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists). To fill Olsson’s roster spot in Halifax, the Tigres signed veteran D Igor Shovshenkov.
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.”
Ed Francis is the very definition of a journeyman hockey player. The 29-year-old has spent his entire career as a steady but unremarkable depth defenseman. After graduating from Lake Huron State in 2010, Francis spent a couple years playing in Switzerland before joining the SHL. In four seasons split between Washington and Saskatchewan, he never made much of an impact, never scoring more than 7 goals or recording more than 11 points in a season. He is known as a hard worker and a positive clubhouse personality (earning the nickname “Easy Ed” for his gentle demeanor), but he hasn’t been quite fast or talented enough to nail down a starting job.
Francis was a free agent in the offseason, in a crowded market for blueliners. When it became clear that he wouldn’t receive a major-league contract, he gave serious thought to retiring. Francis had an open offer to become a high-school gym teacher in his hometown of Charlevoix, Michigan. He and his wife Judy have two young children, and the thought of spending less time on the road and more time raising his kids held considerable appeal.
In the end, though, Francis decided “I hadn’t gotten the game out of my blood quite yet.” He signed a minor-league deal with the New York Night and reported to their CHL affiliate, the Utah Owls. Finally having a chance to play every day, the defenseman has found joy with the Owls. And this week, he recorded an achievement he never imagined possible: he scored a hat trick in Utah’s wild 6-5 overtime win over the Idaho Spuds on Sunday.
It was unusual enough that Francis was the first one on the board, receiving a pass at the blue line from RW Mickey Simpson and firing a slapshot past Idaho goalie Kelvin White less than 2 minutes into the game. His tally was quickly forgotten, though, as the Spuds beat Utah netminder Corey Franklin-Lee three times in a five-minute span to take a two-goal lead at the first intermission.
The Owls quickly erased the deficit with a pair of scores early in the second period, only for D Brady Prussian’s slapper to put Idaho on top again. But just past the halfway point of the second, Utah generated some pressure in the slot in front of White. Francis crashed the net, picked up a deflection from C Gilles Valmont, and stuffed it over White’s catching glove for his second goal of the game, tying it at 4.
“At that point, I was just focused on the fact that we’d tied it up,” said Francis. “I wasn’t even thinking about [a hat trick].”
At 1:25 in the third period, Francis fired another blue-line shot that RW Harris Wondolowski redirected into the net, giving the Owls a 5-4 lead, their first edge since Francis’ opening tally.
“A three-point game? That was huge for me, probably my first one since high school,” Francis noted afterward. “And it gave us the lead, which was great.” Little did he know that the best was yet to come.
The Spuds didn’t go away quietly, as Prussian went five-hole on the power play to equalize the score again. Somewhat surprisingly, neither team scored again in regulation, sending things to overtime.
About a minute into the extra session, Francis joined a three-on-two rush for the Owls. “Usually on an odd-man rush like that, I don’t have the speed to be part of it,” he explained. “But I happened to be in a good spot when Gilles picked it off and started going the other way.”
Valmont found RW Jake Grifka below the hash marks. Grifka faked a shot, then slid a pass to Francis, who went top-shelf over a sprawling White to win the game as the crowd at Wasatch Arena exploded with delight.
It wasn’t until their hats began hitting the ice that Francis realized what he’d done. His mouth flew open as his teammates lifted him up and carried him off the ice.
Francis still seemed in shock as he talked to reporters after the game. “In my whole life, I never imagined I’d get a hatty,” he said. “It never even crossed my mind, not in my craziest dreams. It’s a good thing I didn’t know it was happening at the time, or I’d have shot it fifty feet over the goalie’s head.”
Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie was delighted by the unexpected achievement. “Ed’s the kind of guy who really deserves a moment like this,” Kiyotie told reporters. “He’s paid his dues, and he works his butt off and never complains. A guy like that ought to get to be the hero once in his life, at least.”
Once his postgame interviews were over, Francis pulled out his phone and called home to Judy, the wife who’d agreed to stay back in Michigan with the kids while her husband chased his dream for one more season. When she answered, Francis exclaimed: “Honey, you’ll never believe what just happened to me!”
There’s no denying that it’s been another long season for the Saskatchewan Shockers. They fell out of contention from almost the beginning of the season, and they were mathematically eliminated with almost three weeks left. They unleashed yet another disastrous promotion on their fans, this time a poorly designed kids’ activity book. Until this week, perhaps the most notable event of Saskatchewan’s season was when one of their players accidentally set fire to the locker room.
That all changed on Friday, as the Shockers finally delivered a season highlight worth celebrating. They may be having a season to forget, but Friday was a game to remember, as Saskatchewan set a new SHL record for goals in a game in an 11-5 thumping of the Dakota Jackalopes.
“We sure know how to deliver excitement, huh?” said Shockers coach Myron Beasley with a huge grin. “You saw more goals in this game than you’d see in a week watching Michigan or Anchorage. You want fun, come see us!”
C Elliott Rafferty pointed out that Saskatchewan had scored 11 despite the fact that no player managed a hat trick. “That’s a testament to the kind of depth we have here,” the center said. Rafferty, C Napoleon Beasley, and D Dick Bradshaw each scored two goals, while LW Troy Chamberlain, D Wyatt Barnes, RW Brad Stevens, D Ed Francis, and RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno got one apiece.
The game was not a blowout at the beginning; at the end of the first period, the score stood 4-3. The Shockers peppered Dakota goalie Buzz Carson, but the Jackalopes fired 19 shots at Oliver Richardson and put three behind him. In the second period, Saskatchewan blew it open, scoring five unanswered goals and sending Carson to the showers.
The Shockers came into the third chasing history, but it seems that no one was aware of it. The PA announcer made no mention of it, and the fans and benches seemed equally unaware. Eight and a half minutes into the period, Chamberlain snapped a shot past new Dakota netminder Christen Adamsson for Saskatchewan’s tenth goal, tying the SHL record, first set by Dakota against the Shockers last season. Five minutes later, Barnes buried a rebound to set a new record. The crowd roared its approval, but again, no mention was made of the new record.
It wasn’t until after the game, when a journalist who had looked up the record asked about it, that the Shockers discovered what they had done. “Hey, we’re famous!” shouted Beasley when informed of the record. “That’s really cool. Now we’ll be able to go to the record books and point and say, ‘Hey, I was part of that.'”
“This team is more dangerous than people think,” said Rafferty, who had two assists in the game in addition to his pair of goals. “We’ve got some real snipers here. We’re a young team and we’re still learning, but games like this show what we’re capable of.”
Owner Heinz Doofenschmirtz, whose passion for his team is well-known around the league, was ecstatic with his team’s performance. The owner reportedly came into the locker room after the game and gave each player an $1,100 bonus check in recognition of the record-setting performance. “I believe he’s doing a few laps around the ceiling about now,” said Beasley.
For the Shockers, the game was a welcome bright spot in an unremarkable year. For the Jackalopes, it was yet another reminder of a season gone wrong. Small-market Dakota spent heavily in the offseason to build a team that could contend for a title. Instead, the Jackalopes have turned in another so-so season, and ownership has signaled that they intend to cut payroll next season.
Jackalopes coach Harold Engellund, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy, responded wearily to news of Saskatchewan’s record-setting performance. “Well, congratulations to them,” said Engellund. “They’re a team on the rise and they deserve it. But that’s not a record you really want to be part of, not on the other end. If this is what we’re remembered for this year, that’s not too good.”