Chris Francis is not your archetypal hockey player.
Born and bred in Vegas which is hardly a hotbed for producing hockey talent, he’s had to work hard to get where he is today.
Francis began playing roller hockey at the age of six and didn’t step foot onto an ice rink until four years later. Drafted in the United States Hockey League at 17 years of age, but after failing to agree terms he was signed by WHL side Portland Winterhawks.
His four seasons with Portland were a learning curve and he improved every season, registering more goals, assists and points to better the year before.
A final season tally of 82 points, including 26 goals, saw the Springfield Falcons offer him an AHL contract for the 2010/11 campaign.
Things didn’t quite pan out as Francis might have wished as he saw action in just four AHL games and split the rest of the season between the Las Vegas Wranglers (ECHL) and the Fort Wayne Komets (CHL).
Francis re-signed with the Wranglers after being cut for the 2011-12 season, and it would prove to be a fruitful year as the team reached the Kelly Cup Final and he would become a mainstay of the team, especially in the playoff run.
As he proved in Portland, Francis showed aptitude for improving his game.
A 48 point season, where he passed the twenty barrier in goals, saw him gain league recognition in making the ECHL All-Star Team.
His production waned in 2013 but in an interview given during this summer, Francis refused to blame the terrible season the Wranglers had where they finished rock bottom, but accepted he could and should have been better as one of the team’s leaders.
With Las Vegas not able to secure a rink for 2014/15, all of their players became free-agents, Francis included. With thoughts of Europe on his mind, there was only one team in the ECHL who could keep him in America, and they would come calling.
The current Kelly Cup Champions in the form of the Alaska Aces were quick to snap up his services in what should be a profitable move for both parties. Alaska are looking for two straight Championships and their fourth overall, while Francis still harbours hopes of furthering his career by progressing into the AHL.
It’s an incredibly astute signing by Alaska as well, because Francis will not count as a “veteran” in their line-up. He has played 259 regular-season pro games and under ECHL rules, any skater who has played 260 or more pro games in qualifying leagues prior to the start of a season is considered a “veteran,’’ and each team is allowed a maximum of four veterans.
Having to up-sticks and move 3500 miles north holds no fear for the 25 year old who said “I’m very excited about the opportunity to come play for a defending champion that is great every year and carries the reputation of being very skilled, speedy and well coached.”
“Dynamic” is how Alaska’s head coach Rob Murray describes Francis, who believes that his new singing has the ability to make the step up from the ECHL. His speed and shooting abilities are well noted but it’s his two-way game that needs to improve.
Alaska Aces are without an affiliation right now but with NHL teams becoming younger there maybe an opportunity with an AHL side, should he get back on the right track this season.