May 17, 2015

Jimmy Franks

Jim Franks is a long-forgotten about goaltender in National Hockey League history. There was a time where he played 42 NHL games, including the bulk of the 1942-43 season as the starter with the New York Rangers.

Not that he won many games. That season with the Rangers he won just five times 23 attempts. He won just twelve games in his career.

Franks came out of Melville, Saskatchewan, where he played hockey every moment he could when he wasn't at school, helping on the farm or sleeping.

He went on to star with the Regina Pats, backstopping them all the way to the Memorial Cup tournament in 1933. Unfortunately they placed second, behind the Newmarket Redmen, in their quest for Canada's junior hockey championship. The deciding game reached triple overtime!

From their Franks played a couple of seasons of senior hockey in Saskatchewan, getting the Prince Albert Mintos into Allan Cup contention.

He turned pro in 1936, playing with the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American league. He got a surprise call to the National Hockey League that season though. The Detroit Red Wings had an injury situation to starter Norm Smith and called up Franks in time.

Franks faced the Montreal Canadiens and their goaltender Wilf Cude, who was one of the few people in the building who knew who Franks was. Cude played senior hockey in Melville back when Franks was still a junior. Cude had arranged for a special greeting for Franks, making his first NHL game extra special. Franks returned the gesture by having "as fine a debut as any newcomer ever made," according to local newspaper reports. However Franks would lose the game, allowing just two goals.

The Red Wings returned Franks to the minor leagues for several more seasons. He didn't get another shot at the NHL until 1942. The Wings loaned Franks to the New York Rangers, who were desperate for a goaltender after their starter, Sugar Jim Henry, was forced to leave due to war time service with the Canadian military.

Franks arrived in New York with some fanfare, especially after winning his first game. The Rangers upset the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1.

Unfortunately for Franks and the Rangers, the wins would not come easy the rest of the season. It got worse for Franks. His season ended early thanks to a broken wrist suffered against his old team, Detroit. Bill Beveridge mopped up for the Rangers at the end of the year.

Franks returned to the Detroit organization for the 1943-44 season. He created quite the controversy that season, as he refused to report to the minor leagues like the Wings wanted. He was suspended by the team and it wasn't resolved until it was agreed that Franks would play the Red Wings' road games only. Connie Dion would play the home games.

Franks went 6-8-3 that season on the road with the Wings.

Interestingly, Franks had one more game that season, a 6-1 loss against his teammates from Detroit. The Boston Bruins needed a goalie thanks to an injury to Bert Gardiner, so the Wings agreed to let Franks play for their opposition on the night of January 29th, 1944.

That would prove to be Jimmy Franks final NHL contest. He would play one more season in the minor leagues before hanging up his blocker and glove.

Franks would go on to work for the Ford Motor Company from 1939 through 1972, working in plants in Detroit, Chicago, Ohio, California and even briefly in Europe. He retired in Oregon. He passed away on February 12th, 1994 at the age of 79

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