New 67’s forward Robert Farmer already turning heads
Young Robert Farmer starred at the world junior hockey championship last December, scoring eight goals and 15 points in five games, and there’s a strong possibility you never even noticed him. No-one noticed him. Not even hockey people. Instead of playing in the Canadian-flag-waving, emotionally-charged, hockey-mad environment of Saskatoon and Regina, the newest member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s was half a world away, skating in downtown Debreceb, Hungary, where no matter how hard the kids tried, they could never match the excitement Canada was feeling.
Most of the games barely drew 100 spectators, nary an NHL scout, and the scores were utterly ridiculous. Try and get your head around a 28-0 game. Or 25-1. Or even 20-1 as Farmer’s Great Britain team rolled undefeated to a gold medal win, against such legendary hockey powers as Spain, South Korea, China and even Mexico.
Mexico finished with a goal differential of minus-73, outscored 77-4 in their five losses.
Farmer’s success at the worlds, two levels below the big boys, never even registered on the hockey radar until a teammate in the Great Britain professional league, former 67’s standout Jon Zion, recommended Farmer take a stab at major junior.
Zion placed a call to his former coach in Ottawa, Brian Kilrea, suggesting they take a flyer on the kid in the Canadian Hockey League import draft in June and Kilrea heeded Zion’s advice by selecting Farmer 44th overall from the Sheffield Stellers of the 10team Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom.
The 19-year-old has already arrived in Ottawa to get ready for training camp and has already opened some eyes playing pickup with area professionals.
And it’s all due to the import draft, coupled with a little prodding by Zion, that opened a door.
Now Farmer has to seize the moment and take full advantage.
“It’s his one big shot to be seen by the pros,” said 67’s head coach Chris Byrne. “It’s a great opportunity.”
That’s the beauty of the import draft. It gives Europeans the chance they would never get in their home countries.
They can put up all the numbers they want in their home countries but if they are not skating against the best, no one notices.
The CHL is the measuring stick to go by and blogs in England label Farmer the “ hottest young prospect in British Ice Hockey” so time will tell.
“I’ve been playing pro since I was 16,” said Farmer, in a clipped British accent. “But it’s no OHL, even though there’s a lot of players who used to play in the OHL. Half the league is ex-OHL players. There’s 11 North Americans on every team.
“ I didn’t even think about coming here until about halfway through the season when some of our players said I should go and try it. Nobody looks at British kids playing over there.
“I’ve lived away from home the last four season so moving here was no big deal. I just have to see what happens this year.”
There are two opinions on European players playing in the Canadian Hockey League.
Opponents say it takes away somewhere between 20 and 50 spots that could be slotted for North American players and, at the high end of the spectrum, it can take away ice time and key roles from home-bred players.
Proponents note it’s a great way to improve the talent level, possibly with a player that might put a team over the top.
The 67’s hope they hit the jackpot with Farmer the way they did in 2009 with goaltender Petr Mrazek.
The 67’s, like with Farmer, really had no idea what they were getting with a then 17year-old from Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Mrazek began the year as the backup to incumbent Chris Perugini and played 30 regular season games with a respectable 3.00 goals-against average and winning 12 of 21 starts.
It was in the post-season where Mrazek came into his own, posting a 2.39 goalsagainst average and going 4-3 in seven starts with a .928 save-percentage. The kid is a winner. The 67’s were eliminated in early April and, by June, the Detroit Red Wings were calling his name as the fourthround selection (No. 141 overall). The sky is the limit now with two more years of junior to develop and Mrazek is thankful he took the chance.
“ I don’t know how many years it was,” said Mrazek, the 30th overall choice in the 2009 import draft, “but it was my childhood dream to go to Canada. My parents were happy when the possibility to play hockey in Canada came about.
“Before that, I played in Ostrava-Vitkovice, ( a) steel town. If I had not come to Ottawa, I probably would played at home or somewhere. Maybe I would have tried my luck on another team. But I am very happy I’m in Ottawa.
“In Canada, there’s a better approach to hockey. The preparation (training) is superior and at better levels. In Canada, you practice on the ice and train outside just the hockey.”
Mrazek is currently embroiled in a minor dispute with his former club team (Vitkovice) in Czech Republic and it could affect his status for the world juniors this Christmas.
“I hope it’s resolved,” said Mrazek. “I want to go to Buffalo.”
The consensus is that any European playing well in the CHL will be asked to represent their country at the juniors.
The expectation is Mrazek’s situation will be dealt with by Czech Republic hockey officials. And if not, Detroit may also intervene on his behalf.
They like him a lot. And Detroit scouts would never have had as many chances to see him live had he stayed back home. Mrazek built his case before the eyes of many scouts.
“ When we got to the fifth round, we had a couple of goalies ranked higher,” Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell told RedWingsCentral.com.
“We thought we’d jump on Mrazek there. Hopefully, that will solidify things (depthwise) for a few years.”
The six-foot 162-pounder posted numbers that earned him the OHL’s Dinty Moore Award for the league’s best rookie goals-against average as well as a spot on the second all-rookie team.
“He took it away from Perugini and that team went as far as he could take them,” McDonnell said. “It wasn’t a great team by any means, but the success they did have certainly had a lot to do with how he played.”
The Red Wings, who chose between Mrazek and the QMJHL’s neighbouring Gatineau Olympiques goalie Maxime Clermont, say they “love how he competes.”
“ He’s not huge in the net but, by the way he competes, he plays bigger than what he is,” McDonnell said. “He’s got real good athleticism, he moves well post-to-post and he never gives up on any shots. If you’re not that big and you move quick and can read the play well as he does, it makes up for size.
“I talked to (the 67’s staff ) and they love the kid too,” McDonnell said.
“ They said he’ll be the starter there (this) year. He’s looking forward to it, the Ottawa 67’s are looking forward to it and we def initely are too.”
New Ottawa 67's player Robert Farmer, who’s from Britain, didn’t register on the hockey radar until a teammate in the Great Britain professional league, former 67’s standout Jon Zion, recommended he take a stab at playing in the CHL.