Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It's Official: Ronnie Francis Retires

I knew this day was coming, but wow...just, wow.

It's *very* safe to say that I am a mix of emotions right now...and even though I *really* don't want to cry, I am having to fight back a tear or two.

If I had to credit one person, *just one person* with getting me into the fantastic sport that is hockey, it would be Ronnie Francis. The man scored the one and only goal in the very first NHL hockey game I ever watched completely, April 28th, 2002 - Carolina Hurricanes @ the New Jersey Devils. That goal, along with the GWG at Detroit in Game One of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals are practically tops in my book for the goals to completely mesmerize into liking, no, loving hockey.

Those goals, especially the former one mentioned, kicked off a string of events that have made me joke about AND somewhat believe that Ronnie and I may somehow share a karmic connection...warning, I'm getting ready to kind of sound like the dude in the ads for that new TV show, My Name Is Earl.

2. (1 being the goal againt NJ, of course) The very first Canes jersey I ever owned sported the same number as the very first jersey Ron ever wore for the WhalersCanes franchise. (#4, which I got on my jersey because of my being a HUGE Fantastic Four nut at the time…I never knew until sometime later it was the first number Ronnie wore as a Whaler)

3. A month after joining CanesConnect (The Canes' mailing list), I was the first one to win a prize in their 2002-2003 giveaway. The prize? The 2002 Stanley Cup Finals game day card proofs signed by Ronnie (along with Brindy and Wes).

4. I ordered a McFarland Francis figure on March 1st, 2003 (Ron’s birthday), and it arrived the morning after March 4th, when Ron tied Gordie Howe for the fifty point season record.

5. The first Canes practice I attended when Ron was on the ice was on March 9th, 2003…a year before the infamous trade to Toronto.

6. When choosing the final game to attend for the 2002-03 season, I chose the March 29th game against Buffalo, which was when they showed the Forslund Focus (a profile for certain people/events hosted by the Canes' play-by-play announcer, John Forslund) about Ronnie.

7. During that FF, Ron got up and skated around to wave at the crowd on one side. It was a 50/50 shot, and he chose the very side where I was sitting.

8. When a friend helped me get my behind the Canes bench birthday present tickets to the October 28th San Jose game, the ticket printers at the RBC Center oddly acted funky. My friend kept on having to go to the next booth until she got to the booth where they print up the fancy tickets with pictures of players and/or the Sightless Eye. Guess who was on the tickets to the absolute best game I have ever attended?

9. The aforementioned game took place on the tenth anniversary of when Ron Francis obtained his 1,000th point.

10. If you went to the gallery for that game, I managed to get my picture taken for that...guess whose picture was to the left of mine? (and oddly positioned as if he was somewhat looking at me!)

11. With a couple of exceptions, I have managed to attend most of the 2003-2004 games featuring a milestone or gift (like posters) involving Ronnie AT THE LAST MINUTE…

12. The last Canes practice I ever saw Ron at took place on February 9th, 2004…a month before you-know-what-happened.

13. In late October of 2004, a person requested at the Canes' official board that someone record some tapes of the Carolina Hurricanes Classics for her, since all they were showing in Michigan were Detroit Red Wings Classics. It turns out that person is Ron Francis' first cousin, who I help record not only Canes Classics featuring Ronnie for, but also Pittsburgh Penguins Classics too. And out that has blossomed a lovely friendship between the two of us.

14. On February 19th, the one year anniversary of my getting the Ron Francis poster promotion at a Canes game vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs, a friend who's also mentioned on #14, managed to get my very first hockey souvenir ever, a Toronto Maple Leafs 75th Anniversary puck from the Canadian Pavilion @ Disney World's Epcot Center, signed by Ronnie, and brought it back to me.

15. Off of E-Bay, I won two newspapers, the Tribute to Ron Francis published by Sault Ste. Marie Today in summer of 2002, and a Soo Greyhound special by The Sault Star in late 2004. When did they arrive? March 2nd, 2005: The one year anniversary of the final Carolina Hurricanes game at which I saw Ron Francis play...Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Oh, and by the way, the person I brought the papers from used to be a youth hockey teammate of Ron's, who helped finally get my hands on a couple of Soo Greyhound cards of Ronnie.

16. During the curing of my hockey jones through seeing youth hockey games because of the lockout, I promised a friend whose son was on the RYHA Mite Flyers that I would show off my
Ron Francis card box and collection to her son. Well, I brought the box to the Garner Ice House, and guess who was there, helping coach the Raleigh Storm girls hockey team to their final victory (In OT!!) AND undefeated season? You guessed it. Taking careful pains to make sure I approached him when he was not busy (and waving at my friend, who grinned at me when she saw what I was getting ready to do), I brought the box up to Ronnie for him to sign. What happened next was probably the most amazing thing in my career as the Canes and Ronnie's nuttiest fan: Ron talked to me the most he had ever talked to me, and really, most fans in general. He was gushing with praise over my box, saying it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen, I had put a lot of work into it, etc. Ronnie signed the box all right (smiling ear to ear when I told him all it was missing was his own signature), on top of the picture of him where he was just an inch behind me at the 2003 Skate With the Canes. After he did that and we wished each other well, everything *really* went already was going right that day through Ronnie's son's team winning his final game of the season at the Raleigh RecZone AND as I mentioned, the Raleigh Storm getting their win. But also, my friend's son's Flyers barely got their win in the closest youth hockey game I ever saw, my UNC Tar Heels beat Dook in basketball, Illinois got upset by Ohio State, along with other upsets...obviously, I like those.

Anyway, the day all of that happened? March 6th, 2005: The one year anniversary of the last home game Ron played as a Carolina Hurricane...Carolina Hurricanes vs. the New Jersey Devils, which was also Chuck Kaiton Night.

17. Today is the two year anniversary of the second day of the Canes' 2003 Training Camp I attended, AND ALSO started my Francis card collection, thanks to a card and collectible seller there.

18. And even though this is *really* stretching it, a wild coincidence I recently noticed regarding Ron and I's hometowns...note the very first letters in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (S, O). And then the very first letters in Raleigh, North Carolina (R, N)...note that they come after one another in the alphabet. Told ya it was stretching it, but *I* think it is wild, anyway.

Crazy, eh? And who knows what else may happen? As proven above, fate works in *very* mysterious ways.

Whether or not you are reading this (and/or think I am nuttier than you probably already knew I was), I wish you all the best in your retirement Mr. Francis. Quite obviously, you will be very missed in hockeydom.

And now, I have *even more incentive* to get my Ron Francis Project site revamping done.


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