Just when Wranglers center Chris Francis was beginning to showcase his potential as a player, the Las Vegas native received some devastating news.
During his breakout 2008-09 season for Portland (Ore.) of the Western Hockey League, Francis learned his father, mentor and longtime coach, Dave Francis, had died at age 62 on Jan. 7, 2009, after suffering a stroke.
“That was a rough time for me and my mom. But we manage to get through it every day still,” said Francis, 21, who has seven points in 14 games since joining the Wranglers in mid-February. “We still think about him a lot. I play for him.”
Dave Francis was deeply involved in youth hockey in Las Vegas and worked at the pro shop at the Fiesta Rancho ice rink, where he was known as “Super Dave.”
“I know he’s up there looking down, but that was really tough,” Chris said.
Francis scored four points in his first game after his father’s funeral in Las Vegas and hasn’t stopped scoring since.
“Something just clicked in my head and I really turned it on,” Francis said. “It’s still really tough, but he’s still here.”
Francis exploded for 149 points for the Winterhawks the last two seasons after scoring 40 in his first two.
“He has a real good knack around the net and good vision,” Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. “He’s definitely got enough talent to get to the next level.”
The 5-foot-9-inch, 189-pound rookie pro actually began this season at the next level. After playing well as a free-agent invitee to training camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Francis agreed to a minor league contract and was assigned to Springfield (Mass.) of the American Hockey League.
He had a goal and an assist in four games for the Falcons before being sent to Fort Wayne (Ind.) of the Central Hockey League, where he scored 17 points in 32 games.
Because of dwindling playing time, Francis asked to be reassigned to his hometown Wranglers, and his request was granted.
“The (CHL) is an older league. I don’t know if it was the right fit for him,” Mougenel said. “He’s a young kid who needs to be playing in the ECHL with young prospects.”
Back home and living with his mother, Cindy, Francis is off to a solid start with Las Vegas, compiling five goals and two assists.
“We’re real happy with his offensive game, but for him to be a player at the next level, we need him to commit to the defensive side. And he’s getting it,” Mougenel said. “He’s come in and made an impact in the (locker) room and on the ice.”
Like his father, Francis is intent on making an impact on local hockey. He helps his former youth coach Rob Pallin conduct clinics and also coaches the Las Vegas Tour Rebels, an under-14 roller hockey team.
“I really like giving back to the community and helping the kids out,” said Francis, who attended Eldorado High for three years before heading to Portland.
■ NOTE — The Wranglers (35-24-5, 75 points) fell to third place in the Pacific Division after their 5-1 loss to Alaska (41-21-3, 85) and wins by Bakersfield (37-25-3, 77) and Stockton (33-22-10, 76). … Goalie Michael Ouzas was loaned to San Antonio of the AHL, joining eight other Wranglers in the league.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.ALASKA 5
LAS VEGAS 1
KEY: Brian Swanson had a goal and two assists for the Aces, who dealt the Wranglers their fifth straight loss.
NEXT: Aces at Wranglers, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday