by Ryan Smith | AHL On The Beat
Bobby Farnham will never be mistaken for a soft-spoken background dweller. Growing up a strong-armed stone’s throw from the Boston Garden (and its successor of the same nickname) in North Andover, Mass., the Springfield Thunderbird forward’s burgeoning hockey life was planted from the seeds of one of America’s most passionately vocal cities.
“Growing up in this area and being a diehard Bruins fan, I think the culture of being around the sport so much is what made me gravitate towards (playing hockey),” recalled Farnham.
A chuckle accompanied Farnham’s nostalgia when thinking of his boyhood hockey idols.
“It’s funny, the guys I liked were never (the style) that I play now,” Farnham said with a smirk. “I was obsessed with Sergei Samsonov – I couldn’t do anything he did.”
A Calder Trophy winner in 1998 and a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL, Samsonov may have drawn young Farnham’s eye for offensive exploits, but even in his youth, Farnham also fixated upon another type of player.
“I loved P.J. Stock – I thought he was, pound-for-pound, tougher than anyone in (the NHL),” Farnham said of the 5-foot-11 agitator-turned-broadcaster who logged seven pro seasons of 100 penalty minutes or more.
He may not have realized it at the time, but Farnham may have been viewing a future version of himself in Stock. After starring for Phillips Academy in his native Andover alongside fellow future pro Chris Kreider, Farnham saw his career path take him the Ivy League route, to Brown University in Providence.
True as one may expect of an Ivy Leaguer, Farnham was already cognizant of the next steps necessary for his own success.
“As you move up the ladder, you see that you can’t be the same player you were in high school. I used all four years (at Brown) to grow as a player.”
In the midst of his time at Brown, Farnham went from a fourth-line and penalty-killing role in his early years to a top-six position by his upper-class seasons. Still, the winger was mindful of his time beyond the Bears.
“What I realized going into my senior year (at Brown) was that my role as a pro wasn’t even going to be what it was at the college level. Although I was playing (on the top two lines), I was starting to adapt my game and bring that grit – that energy – a lot more.”
It is that sparkplug mentality that has accompanied Farnham ever since going undrafted into the NHL.
“I think there were tons of people that doubted my pro potential,” Farnham states frankly. “I guess that kind of fuels the fire, but water seeks its own level if you go about things the right way on a daily basis.”
That “water” has risen in each step of Farnham’s quest, beginning with a rookie season that saw the NHL lock its doors and bring a trickle-down effect that left Farnham in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers for the early part of the 2012-13 campaign.
Even so, beginning his pro career in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization gave Farnham a taste of the day-to-day requirements of reaching the pinnacle of the sport, especially in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton playing for current New Jersey Devils coaches John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine.
“I was very fortunate to play in that organization at the start. They cemented a lot of really good habits, whether it was in practice or in games. They really valued what I was willing to do for the team, (and) that was huge for me,” Farnham said ahead of this Friday’s return to his former city.
Habits that were harnessed in Wilkes-Barre eventually paid off for Farnham, in the form of 67 NHL games for Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal. Still, Farnham has never lost the edge that allowed him to both prove his doubters wrong and irritate his opponents.
“It’s always been something within me. You can’t just make a guy into that spark plug – you have to have something in you that is that intangible. I want to do what a lot of other guys aren’t willing to do, and that is (sometimes) to get beat up and get your name out there playing that agitator or ‘rat’ role.”
It would not take Farnham long to make his fiery presence known in his very first game with Springfield on Oct. 25 at Lehigh Valley. With the Thunderbirds trailing 2-0 early in the second period and sensing his team needed a jolt, Farnham – who stands just 5-foot-10 – boldly challenged 6-foot-7 Phantoms defenseman Samuel Morin in an old-fashioned scrap. Within six minutes of his five-minute fighting major, Farnham’s team had tied the game.
A simple fearless act had already endeared Farnham to his team and the fans in his home state, but to the 28-year-old, it was merely that – a simple display of his own motto.
“The biggest thing for me is to ‘bring what you bring,’” Farnham reiterates. “I always say that – if you bring what you bring, day in and day out, and if your teammates trust what you do on the ice and they see how you practice and how you play, that will be contagious within the room.”
That contagion has not only enveloped the Thunderbirds, but the franchise’s loyal fans alike. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Massachusetts-born Farnham has won over his home state as a fan favorite with the same throwback style that has defined his hockey life.
“There’s a very homey feeling to playing in Springfield. The fans and organization have been great to me. The situation could not be more ideal for what I was looking for – I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, so I think landing here has been a real godsend.”