Incoming Minnesota Duluth recruit Will Francis of Shoreview, Minnesota, is battling leukemia.
In a post to the CaringBridge website set up by his family, Francis has been diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The defenseman out of Centennial High School began chemotherapy Monday.
The 19-year-old Francis is a 2019 sixth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. The 6-foot-5, 209-pound blue liner was in his second season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League in 2019-20 when he suffered a season-ending injury 10 games in. According to his CaringBridge site, Francis tore his meniscus during a practice.
Francis as a junior helped lead Centennial to a fourth-place finish in the 2018 Class AA state tournament, posting 10 goals and 26 assists in 31 games. He left high school a year early to play in the USHL, tallying two goals and eight assists in 65 games with Cedar Rapids in 2018-19. He had a goal and three assists in 10 games this year with the RoughRiders.
According to his CaringBridge site, Francis moved to Duluth in January to start taking classes and rehabbing in preparation for his freshman season in 2020-21.
Because Francis has yet to sign a National Letter of Intent, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin was unable to publicly comment on his recruit Wednesday per NCAA rules.
In fact there are just two players the coach can comment on at this time — goaltender Zach Stejskal of Cohasset and U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Connor Kelley — as those are the only two who have signed NLIs to play at UMD in 2020-21.
And with the signing of NLIs suspended during the NCAA’s recruiting dead period that runs until at least April 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no more NLIs coming for anyone in college sports until the suspension is lifted.
The NCAA is permitting coaches to contact recruits via telephone and written correspondence during this dead period, which Sandelin said the program is doing to keep recruits informed.
“We just want our guys who could potentially come in to know what’s going on so they’re not wondering,” Sandelin said. “We’ve had emails and phone calls to those guys just to keep them informed and we’ll see what transpires here.”
The Bulldogs will graduate four seniors from the 2019-20 squad, including two at defense in Nick Wolff — who signed an NHL deal Wednesday with the Boston Bruins — and Jarod Hilderman. UMD could lose up to two more if juniors Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg — both second-round NHL draft picks — decide to move on to begin their professional careers.
In addition to Francis and Kelley, the Bulldogs do have four other defensemen verbally committed to the program that could come in next season, including Kelley’s USNTDP teammate Owen Gallatin, 17, of Hugo, Minnesota, and Francis’ teammate this season in Cedar Rapids, Darian Gotz, 19, of Hermantown.
Other possibilities include Brett Oberle, 18, of Woodbury and the Minnesota Wilderness, as well as Andover senior Wyatt Kaiser.
This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. March 18 with a more detailed recruiting outlook. It was originally posted at 12:46 p.m. March 18.