NEW YORK, February 19, 2022 – The Rangers are saddened to learn of the passing of former Rangers player, head coach, general manager, and Hockey Hall of Famer Emile ‘The Cat’ Francis, who passed away today at the age of 95.
“The New York Rangers and the entire hockey world are saddened to learn of the passing of Emile Francis,” Rangers President and General Manager Chris Drury said. “Emile’s passion and dedication to the Rangers organization and growing the game of hockey in New York City was second to none. ‘The Cat’ was a true pioneer and innovator, as well as the architect and coach of some of the greatest teams in Rangers history. Emile has meant as much to the Rangers as any person who has been part of the organization throughout its history. Our thoughts are with Emile’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
“I mourn the loss of my dear friend, Emile Francis,” Rangers Senior Advisor to the Owner and Alternate Governor Glen Sather said. “I had the privilege to play for Emile, coach against him, and work in the league as a general manager at the same time as him. I always admired Emile’s passion and dedication, and he was one of the true characters of our game. I’d like to express my deepest condolences to everyone who knew and loved Emile.”
Francis served as the Rangers’ general manager from October 30, 1964 to January 6, 1976, overseeing one of the most successful periods in franchise history. During Francis’ tenure as the Rangers’ general manager, the Blueshirts made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in nine consecutive seasons from 1966-67 – 1974-75 and advanced to at least the Stanley Cup Semifinals in four consecutive seasons from 1970-71 – 1973-74, which included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1971-72.
In addition to working in the Rangers’ front office as general manager, as well as assistant general manager prior to ascending to that role, Francis served as the Rangers’ head coach for parts of 10 seasons over three different stints (1965-66 – 1967-68; 1968-69 – 1972-73; 1973-74 – 1974-75). Francis coached 654 regular season games with the Rangers, and guided the team to a 342-209-103 (W-L-T) record (.602 points percentage). He is the Rangers’ all-time leader in wins, games coached, and points percentage (min. 100 games coached) in franchise history. Francis is also the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff wins (34) and playoff games coached (75) in franchise history.
During Francis’ tenure in the Rangers organization, he oversaw, and helped orchestrate, some of the most memorable moments in franchise history. Francis was instrumental in the formation of the ‘G-A-G Line’ of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, and Rod Gilbert, and all three players set single-season and franchise records during his tenure. Francis was the Rangers’ general manager when the team acquired goaltender Ed Giacomin from Providence of the American Hockey League in 1965 and when the team selected defenseman Brad Park with the second overall pick in the 1966 NHL Amateur Draft. The team Francis coached and helped assemble posted three consecutive 100-point seasons from 1970-71 – 1972-73, and the .699 points percentage the Rangers posted in both 1970-71 and 1971-72 remain a single-season franchise record.
In addition to his extraordinary work with the Rangers, Francis was just as influential and instrumental in growing the game of hockey in New York City. In 1966, Francis formed the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, giving kids in New York City the opportunity to play ice hockey. Among the Rangers players who started playing hockey as a result of the Met League being formed were New York City natives Nick Fotiu and Brian Mullen. Francis also helped organize countless clinics and seminars and established ties between the Rangers and the local youth hockey community that still stand today. In 2008, the Rangers created the Emile Francis Award, given to those who have grown youth hockey around the local community.
Francis was honored with the Lester Patrick Trophy “for outstanding service to hockey in the United States” in 1982, and in that same year, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders category. In addition, Francis received the Wayne Gretzky International Award from the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015; the award recognizes international individuals who have made major contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States.
As a player, the North Battleford, Saskatchewan native appeared in 95 NHL games as a goaltender with the Chicago Black Hawks (1946-47 – 1947-48) and Rangers (1948-49 – 1951-52).
Francis is survived by his son, Rick and his wife Susie, son Bob and his wife Terry, grandchildren Kelly, Kristine, and Ryan, and great grandchild Makai.