Time in Wheeling helped Farnham find his niche


Special to ECHL.com

NEWARK, N.J. – Coming out of Phillips Andover Academy, all Bobby Farnham wanted to do was continue a long family legacy of star athletes at Brown University. His father, two uncles and brother all played for the football team, but the 5-foot-10, 188 pounder was intent on making his own name in his own sport.

Now four seasons removed from playing for the Bears, the feisty forward accomplished all that and then some; he rose from relative anonymity in the ECHL during the 2012-13 season with the Wheeling Nailers to become a regular NHL’er with both the Penguins and now the Devils following their early-season waiver claim.

But it all started with his time in college.

“Going to college was my dream,” the current New Jersey Devils winger told ECHL.com before their game against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

“I wanted to play Division 1 college hockey, that’s all I grew up knowing and grew up wanting to do. That’s what I wanted to do. Major junior did not even cross my mind. I wanted to play professional hockey, but my route was college. My four years at Brown were maybe the four best of my life, so it was awesome.”

For a time, however, that seemed like it might be the end of the road. Farnham earned brief tryouts with both the Providence Bruins and Worcester Sharks at the end of 2011-12, but neither materialized into anything further.

It wasn’t until he latched on with the Nailers at the start of the following season that things started to change for him. He played just nine games for Wheeling, racking up 46 penalty minutes as well as three goals and an assist, stats indicative of someone who was viewed as being able to fill a variety of roles.

“I loved it in Wheeling; the fans at WesBanco, the people there, Clark Donatelli and the guys on the team,” he said. “That organization, Pittsburgh’s, is top notch. It starts with my time there, especially because I loved playing for Clarkie, he was awesome. He gave me the opportunity to play on the power play and the penalty kill, and it really propelled my career. I really owe him a lot for that. My time there, although it was short, was pretty cool. I had a lot of fun.”

Farnham’s time in the ECHL served as period of self-discovery, as well as being honest with himself about what he could bring to the table.

“I wasn’t skilled enough to where I was going to be a top-six guy at the AHL level or obviously the NHL, but it was one of those things where I needed to find a niche in pro hockey,” he said.

“(Wheeling is) when I was figuring out what I was going to be as a pro hockey player. I happened to score a few goals and have a few fights, and that’s kind of how it happened. The rest of the year, I ended up fighting a bit more. For a couple years, you’re trying to find what you’re going to be as a pro hockey player, so that was in that period where I realized I was going to be that type of player going forward.”

Now 26, Farnham graduated to the AHL after his stint with Wheeling, and became a stalwart in Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s lineup under head coach John Hynes before ultimately making his NHL debut on December 13, 2014 for the Penguins against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think for anybody, that first NHL game is special, no matter what route you took or what you did,” he said. “It was really special to come through the same organization for three years and finally be able to put on the Pittsburgh sweater in an NHL game.

Now, Farnham and Hynes are re-united in New Jersey after the Devils claimed the gritty, speedy standout on waivers earlier this season. The affable Massachusetts native has already endeared himself to fans with a few fights, as well as scoring his first NHL goal in Brooklyn on Halloween.

“Making the move over here and making your debut for a new team, that was kind of similar to that (debut) feeling too,” he said. “Getting that first goal, it was the same feeling, but even more so. It’s been an awesome ride, and I’m enjoying the journey for sure.”