BRI­TISH STEAL

New 67’s for­ward Robert Farmer al­ready turn­ing heads

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

CHRISTOPHER PIKE, THE OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN

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.

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