SUN Hockey Pool

Francis ends career quietly

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Ron Francis may have left the NHL quietly yesterday but there was nothing he could do about the accolades that began streaming in after he officially announced his retirement.

"He was exactly like you heard he was," Paul Maurice, Francis' coach with the Carolina Hurricanes and now the coach of the Toronto Marlies, said. "The humility that came along with his greatness, that was the first thing. He led by example but he also knew the right time to lead with his voice."

And talk about a heck of an example. A Sault Ste. Marie native who finished his brilliant 23-season career with a short stint with the Maple Leafs at the end of the 2003-04 season, Francis retires as the active points leader in the NHL, with 1,798. Only Wayne Gretzky (2,857), Mark Messier (1,887) and Gordie Howe (1,850) have more. Francis is third on the career list in games played with 1,731, behind Howe (1,767) and Messier (1,756).

Francis, 42, is the latest NHL player to retire in recent days, following a group that includes among others Mark Messier, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis. All will be eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

Though his statistics are eye-popping, it never was just about points or games played with Francis, who was known as Ronnie Franchise in Raleigh, N.C. He was revered throughout the league as an unassuming kind who always did things the right way.

So to no surprise, there was no pomp yesterday, no lasting images of Francis weeping into a microphone. He announced his retirement through a news release posted on the NHL Players' Association website yesterday morning.

"I always joked in years past that when that time came I would send a fax in from the Caribbean," Francis, who hinted he could come back to the game in a management capacity, told the Canadian Press. "And I actually booked a flight and went down to St. Kitts at the end of July and I talked to my agent and close friends and they said: 'No, you can't do it from there.'

"My personality is not one that goes out looking for that (publicity). It was never about that. It was about playing the game. And the thing I'm most proud of over the length of my career is probably the consistency. That is the best part."

Francis, who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is second in NHL history with 1,249 assists (behind Gretzky's 1,963), was a linemate of Maple Leafs winger Jeff O'Neill in Carolina.

"He got me a nice cottage in Muskoka, so I thank him for that,"O'Neill, who used Francis-patterned sticks when he was a kid, said jokingly. "For me, by far, Ron Francis is the best player I have played with. He is one of those guys who later in his career was like another coach for us."

Maurice never had a problem with Francis visiting him in the coach's office in Raleigh.

"Ronnie was a player who coached the players and coached the coaches, but in a great way," Maurice said. "He had a fantastic way of coming down to the office and getting his point across without throwing his future Hall of Fame ring on the table. You appreciate that in a guy. And he did the same thing with players."


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