Former Las Vegas center Chris Francis signs with Aces

Doyle Woody

Chris Francis’ production waned last hockey season, but he doesn’t make excuses, cast blame elsewhere or consider himself a victim of circumstance.

One season after going to the ECHL All-Star Game and notching 21-27--48 totals in 69 games, Francis last season struggled for his hometown Las Vegas Wranglers, the league’s worst team. He posted 14-23--37 totals in 64 games, and his plus-minus rating of minus-33 tied for last on the circuit.

“It was a tough year for me,’’ Francis said by cellphone from Las Vegas. “I’ll be honest. I got comfortable. I slacked off a little bit. I didn’t put in the work I should have.

“That was on me. I’ll do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.’’

He’ll do it by joining the reigning Kelly Cup champion Alaska Aces, who Thursday revealed Francis, a 25-year-old center, as their second announced signing of the offseason.

 “I’m extremely excited to get up there,’’ Francis said. “They’re very well-coached. They’re very good every season. They know how to win hockey games. They’re very skilled, and that’s the kind of hockey I like to play.’’

The Aces last week announced the return of defenseman Corey Syvret.

With the Wranglers out of commission for the upcoming season -- they could not secure a rink for home games -- all their players from last season became free agents. Aces fourth-year coach Rob Murray targeted Francis, who he coached at the 2013 All-Star Game and always viewed as a dangerous opponent.

Francis was likewise interested in the Aces. He said he told his family the only way he would forego a plan to play the upcoming season in Europe and remain in the ECHL was if the Aces made him an offer.

About a week later, Francis said, Murray called him.

Murray said he’s always liked Francis’ speed and hard shot, and believes the fifth-year pro can rebound with the Aces.

“(Las Vegas) had a poor hockey team and his plus-minus probably was a reflection of that,’’ Murray said. “He wants to re-establish himself and get a chance to move up to the American (Hockey) League.

“He’s got the speed, he’s got a deadly shot and he’s dangerous.’’

Plus-minus woes like Francis suffered last season are sometimes a reflection of playing on a bad team -- Las Vegas finished 20-44-8 last season. But two seasons ago, when the Wranglers finished 37-30-5, Francis was plus-8. Also, winger Peter Sivak two seasons ago was minus-11 for the San Francisco Bulls, the third-worst team in the league that season, but last season for the Aces won the league’s plus-minus crown at plus-49.

Francis’ signing comes with a bonus of sorts for the Aces -- he doesn’t count as a veteran. He has played 259 regular-season pro games. 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.

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