By DON SCOTT
During his five-year career with the Hershey Bears, Lou Franceschetti helped them win the 1980 Calder Cup in his rookie season and became a crowd favorite for his consistent, energetic play.
“I probably had the longest career (1979-96) of anyone on that Cup team and I don’t know if it was perseverance or being stupid,” Franceschetti said with his ever-present smile. “The thing with me was I took care of my body during the off season and feel that’s why I could play as long as I did.
“I always said I wasn’t going to play in Europe unless I wasn’t given an honest chance to play here,” Franceschetti continued. “Bryan Murray called me after we didn’t make the ‘83-84 playoffs in Hershey and defined a role for me with Washington and then I made sure nobody took it away from me.”
His next AHL stop was in Binghamton in 1984-85 where it had a loaded squad that won 52 games to finish with 112 points.
“We should’ve won the Cup that time because we had 11 guys who had over 800 NHL games played, but the team was stripped by playoffs,” said Franceschetti. “Paul Gardner led the league in scoring with 130 points and Pete Sidorkiewicz won 31 in goal for us.”
Franceschetti also skated for Baltimore, Rochester and, his final AHL stop, New Haven.
“When I was with Rochester (’91-92), we knocked the Bears out of the playoffs in the first round,” Franceschetti recalled, “and that was kind of a strange feeling because I had never done that before. My last AHL team was New Haven and that’s the team we beat to get to the Cup finals.
“They were 25 points ahead of us in the standings but the stars were aligned for us that year,” he continued. “We only won three of 14 games all year with them but they had some call-ups to the Rangers and we didn’t lose anyone. We just played as team. We went in knowing all we had to do was take one game in their building because there was no way they’d beat us at home. That was the same approach we took with New Brunswick, who we lost to in all six regular-season games. We won two there, one in double overtime, then won two of three at home with another double OT.“
“We had the early season coaching change with Doug Gibson taking over as coach. He was so calm and mild mannered and just let us do our thing. There was no yelling and Frank (Mathers) was there primarily as a figurehead but you know you’d hear it from him when you came off ice and hadn’t done your job.“We had a team that didn’t need to be kicked because older fellows knew exactly the kind of leadership they had to give us. (Gary) Inness, (Bob) Bilodeau, (Mike) Haworth, (Ron) Lalonde and (Bob) Girard gave us a great mix of young and old who wanted to win.”
Franceschetti played 489 AHL games and 459 NHL games for the Capitals, Toronto and Buffalo before quitting in 1996 with Nashville in the ECHL.
“When I look back now and see what is going on now, I think what I could be doing if I were 10 years younger,” Franceschetti exclaimed. “I don’t think they have as much fun as we did because it’s more of a business now. I knew I had to come to the rink every day and earn a spot because there was always another guy there to take it.”
Then, turning to the present and his visit to Hershey, Franceschetti said: “It was great coming back to hear the fans chanting my name when I was introduced at a game. So many people have talked to me about my time here and the same thing happens in Toronto, where I live. It’s easy for me to pull strings and get anything I want.”
He indicated he was still trying to get into coaching somewhere, something he pursued briefly after retirement.
“I wanted to be around for the kids while they were growing and not be a dad who was never home,” Franceschetti said. “In coaching, you’re hired to be fired and I didn’t want that for them.”