Emile "the Cat" Francis enjoyed a close association with hockey that lasted over four decades. Communities across North America benefited from his talents as a player, coach, general manager and administrator.
Born in North Battleford, Sasktachewan, Francis was a fine goalie who played minor hockey and junior with the hometown Beavers before heading south as a pro in the Eastern (Amateur) Hockey League. He suited up for the Philadelphia Falcons and later the Washington Lions where he won league MVP honours. He was known as "the Cat" because of his slight frame and lightning quick reflexes between the pipes.
The Canadian Armed Forces called upon his services for one year and after fulfilling his duty he returned to don his pads with the Moose Jaw Juniors and the senior Regina Capitals. During the 1945-46 season Francis, who was an avid baseball player and manager, began experimenting with a first baseman's glove by adding a cuff to protect the rest of his hand and wrist. This innovation was the prototype of the present day catching glove used by netminders all over the world.
Francis played 95 regular season games with the NHL's Chicago Black Hawks and New York Rangers. In all, he played in thirteen professional seasons in the National, American, United States and Western Hockey leagues. In 1952-53 he was named the WHL's most valuable player and top goaltender. His last pro game came with that league's Seattle Totems in 1959-60.
When Francis took on a coaching position with the New York Rangers -sponsored Guelph Royals juniors, he began a 16-year association with that franchise. He was groomed to be the bench boss of the parent club and ended up guiding the Rangers on three separate occasions. The peak of his tenure as the New York coach was reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1972. Francis also served as the general manager of the Blueshirts from 1964 to 1975 and drafted such future stars as Brad Park, Steve Vickers, Pat Hickey and Rick Middleton.
Francis joined the St. Louis Blues in 1976 to become Executive Vice President, general manager and coach. Under his guidance the Blues set a franchise record with 107 points in 1980-81. He joined the Hartford Whalers in 1983 as president and GM and helped the team win the Adams Division regular season crown in 1986-87. He retired from the league on June 30, 1993.
As a long time backer of minor hockey, Francis founded the New York Junior League and the St. Louis Metro Junior B League. He was a consultant to the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States, an organizer of the St. Louis hockey development schools, and the US College Resource Centre. Francis was also active in the establishment of scholarships throughout the country and was awarded the Lester Patrick trophy in 1982 for his contribution to the game in the United States.
Francis was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.