As Chris Francis skated down the right boards at the Budweiser Events Center in Fort Collins, Colo., he easily could have made the safe hockey play by dumping the puck into the offensive zone.
Instead, the Las Vegas Wranglers forward kicked it into high gear, burst over the blue line and made a beeline towards Colorado Eagles goalie Adam Brown. Francis confidently stared down his target as his hands dangled the puck in front of him before quickly firing a laser into the back of the net.
It was a flawless goal fitting of the 2013 ECHL All-Star Game, and a blast from the past for the Las Vegas native’s roller hockey background.
“You really learn that type of patience playing roller hockey,” Francis said. “It helps me with my vision and gives me that much more time to make a play instead of rushing it and dumping the puck in versus skating it wide, picking your head up, making a move or a pass.”
The 5-foot-9, 189-pound center began to develop his puck handling skills and hockey vision when he was 6 years old. Yet because he was living in a non-traditional hockey market, Francis began to master his trade on the Sport Court.
“Most of the kids start in roller hockey,” Francis said. “That’s what I started in, and I didn’t come over to ice hockey until I was 10. You see a lot more of that out there than people going to ice first.”
Francis earned the All-Star Game invitation after posting 12 goals and eight assists through the Wranglers first 31 games. Along with scoring a goal and an assist in the All-Stars, 7-3, victory over the host Eagles, the 23-year-old also participated in the team skill’s competition.
“Being named an All-Star with this group of guys, there’s a lot of good players in this league so it’s just an honor to be here and have a little fun and shoot the pill around,” he said.
Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel says Francis’s roller hockey background is evident in his playing style.
“He does extraordinary things with the puck, and there is a huge correlation between that and roller hockey,” Mougenel said. “One of the first things I noticed with Chris is that he is offensively gifted and very creative.”
Francis is in his third year of professional hockey and appears to be starting to find his niche after spending his Junior hockey career with the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL). In four seasons he lit the lamp 66 times and notched 123 assists.
The hometown kid has enjoyed playing in front of the Vegas faithful as well as being a roller hockey/ice hockey coach for the Las Vegas Junior Wranglers during the offseason.
“I love it,” Francis said. “All the kids know me. It’s awesome being from Vegas, being able to play there and having them all come and watch me. In the summers they love having me out there.”
Francis enjoys the position as a role model for future Las Vegas youth hockey players and hopes to elevate his game with an eye on this season, and beyond.
“I want to be a go to guy on my team,” he said. “My coach always tells me to shoot the puck. Every game I am trying to average at least six to eight shots. Playing with a little bit of confidence and trying to get things done.”
Mougenel believes Francis has the talent to one day reach hockey’s highest level.
“A kid that young and that talented, he can play in the National Hockey League,” Mougenel said. “He has to be committed to his body and have some things go his way. But there is no reason why he can’t play there.”