NEW YORK — Emile “The Cat” Francis, the diminutive goalie who became a Hall of Fame coach and general manager with the New York Rangers has died. He was 95.
The Rangers announced the death Saturday night.
“Emile’s passion and dedication to the Rangers organization and growing the game of hockey in New York City was second to none,” Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury said in a statement. “`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.”
Francis was general manager of the Rangers from October 1964 to January 1976, also serving as coach for parts of 10 seasons during that time. New York made nine consecutive playoff appearances in his tenure, reaching at least the semifinals in four consecutive years (1971-74) and the Stanley Cup Final in 1972.
As Rangers coach, he was 342-209-103 and holds the franchise records for regular-season wins and games, and playoff wins (34) and games (75). He also put together the famous G-A-G line (for goal-a-game) of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield.
After he was fired by the Rangers in 1976, Francis was general manager of the St. Louis Blues from 1976-83, serving two stints as coach in 1976-77 and 1981-83 and compiling a 46-64-14 record. He then left to become general manager of the Hartford Whalers from 1983-89.
Francis received the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in 1982, the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Builder.
“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Emile Francis, a Hall of Fame coach and general manager whose infectious personality was as beloved as his hockey acumen was revered,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The NHL sends its deepest condolences to his family and to his many friends and admirers.”
Francis also was selected the recipient of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s Wayne Gretzky International Award in 2015 for contributions to the growth and advancement of the sport in the United States.
From North Battleford, Saskatchewan, the 5-foot-7 Francis was 32-52-10 with a 3.75 goals-against average and one shutout in 95 NHL games in six seasons with Chicago and the Rangers.
Off the ice, he formed the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League to promote the sport for youngsters in New York City, and organized youth clinics in the community. The Rangers named an award for him in 2008, awarded to an individual who grows youth hockey in the area.